Below is my comment on an article posted to the Ed.gov blog entitled “Arne on Teacher Salaries and Standardized Tests“. There was much in the comment stream about how muchc teachers should make, comparisons to other professions, and the value of an education degree.
As a professional engineer in the process of (voluntarily) transforming into a K-12 educator, I hope I can add a hybrid perspective.
As a aerospace research engineer (federal), I started at $43,500 and advanced to roughly $80,000 in five years. This is not because of some arbitrary euro-centric preference, it is because of simple supply and demand. At the level of STEM understanding required to ensure our national security, economic vigor, modern infrastructure, and quality of life, there are simply not enough young people moving into the ranks to replace those retiring. Engineers, not defined by their degree but by those who can think creatively, rigorously analyze a system, and synthesize new innovations, are in very short supply; the demand for such people in our modern world is very high. I do not think I could say the same about literature. No disrespect intended, as I love literature and fully see its value in society, but the simple fact is that the skillset is not required in as large quantities right now.
I am aware that switching to a career education will probably mean a pay cut of 50-60%. This concerns me, but is not stopping me – I am, alas, a stubborn idealist. But for the general case, consider those who are similarly prepared as I am. Should those well-trained as engineers and scientists have to choose between a world of creative application of their talents, probable advancement, and job security, versus a world of low-pay, advancement and security based solely on tenure, and declining respect and creative freedom? If not, how can we structure education such that this comparison is more favorable? Because that is the comparison being made by graduates versus other professions.
Teaching *is* a profession, and a important one – indeed, the *most* important one, since it feeds all of the others. But it is also a unique one – unlike medicine, law, or engineering, proficiency in the subject matter and theory of practice are not enough to be effective. What gets missed in that analogy is that, while a surgeon with more training and experience will probably perform a better surgery, a teacher with more training and experience will not necessarily prompt better learning. I think we all have personal experiences to attest to that. What is unique about this profession is this: That children learn from people they love. They learn when the material is engaging and relevant. They learn when they can apply their own initiative and correlate it to success. Some of that can be taught, some if it can’t.
There is no way that an education major with a credential in math or science can bring as much content knowledge to the table as I can. Does that make me a better potential teacher? Not necessarily. Not by a long shot.
Teaching is a noble calling because it is the *only* one which directly professionalizes the intersection of people and ideas. This goes above and beyond subject matter competency. We should be reaching out to those in all fields who have these qualities, and incentivizing their consideration of teaching as a profession. Make it *the* selective pathway, an honor; that beyond their excellence in science, math, literature, history, theatre, engineering, or language, they also exhibit the much more in-demand talent than any of these of being able to connect their ideas with people. And then pay them commensurate to the field from which you plucked them.
Can performance in this quality be measured by standardized testing? Not in isolation no, and such a proposition is yet another dangerous deterrent to those in more open fields. But rote subject matter competency *is* important, when combined with the assurance that the student has developed the creative and analytical capacity to apply it. Know the equation – but also write a paragraph on why these quantities are related in this way. Know the scientific principle – but also explain to me what we know about the universe as a result. Know the name of the artistic movement – but also tell the world around you what we as a society failed to learn from it.
Does that require more time and resources? Definitely. But I think it is what is required for an increasingly knowledge-based world, one increasingly dependent on technologies, systems, and social structures which did not exist when the present education system was created. So that also means change, which in turn means both pain and opportunity. But if we fail in this, the whole nation fails. Education is too central a pillar to a strong republic; no such republic can hope to stand long with this pillar strained or broken.