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The problem with education is the teachers

Often the rhetoric about education reform, accountability, poor scores, and global competition come from those who have never experienced the challenges or rewards of teaching.

Recently, I had a conversation with a casual acquaintance about the state of education. "The problem," he said, "is the teachers." When I asked him to elaborate, I heard the typical rhetoric about education reform, accountability, poor scores, and global competition that we often hear from those who have never experienced the challenges or rewards of education. He knows first-hand because, as a senior-level businessman, he works with young professionals all the time who arrive at the workforce door lacking basic skills. "Someone isn't doing their job when they come to me out of college without basic grammar or math skills.... Bueller... Bueller."

He went on to say that he was glad his own kids were grown and out of the public school system well on their way to successful careers. Trying to suppress my irritation, eye rolls and sarcasm, I suggested that he might feel differently about our system if one of his own children had pursued education. To that he replied, "Thank God that didn't happen. They are too bright for anything less than six figures. They both had the sense to choose fields with a return on investment of their tuition and student loans."

Wait... what? You say that the problem is the teachers, but the best and the brightest should choose better paying jobs? This is an intelligent, successful businessman. Someone please help me understand his logic.

I've defended the profession countless times when people remark about how teachers shouldn't complain about their salaries since they only work until 2:30 and get the whole summer off or the ludicrous argument that teaching is the only job that you get paid for no matter how lousy your "product" is. I've cited research studies and statistics that show what happens at home is more impactful to a student's academic career than what happens at school. I've shared personal stories about educators I know that spend their own money on basic school supplies, clothing, shoes, food, and even hygiene products for their students. I've expressed my appreciation for the people who assume one of the most important professions on the planet in exchange for an average salary and shared my own reasons for choosing education.

But this time, I found myself speechless.

This exchange reminded me of an old Daily Show segment. I'll admit it... I'm a Jon Stewart fan, and it's not often when my entertainment intersects with my professional passions. So, a message to teachers from Stewart is sure to catch my attention. In his attack on teacher attackers, Stewart addresses teachers' three-month vacations, special textbooks with all the answers, and the greed that led them into the teaching profession. He goes on to mock the other ridiculous attacks on our nation's teachers. This two-minute clip will likely make you laugh. But, if you're anything like me, it will also make you a little sad that it takes The Daily Show to put some of the arguments for education reform where they belong.

The reality is that education has some teachers that don't belong there. In my experience, they are a very small minority. But, sure, there some like Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher. However, as a rule, we don't overgeneralize other professionals the way some do with teachers. We don't think about classifying every sales manager as a Steve Carell or every psychologist as a Frazier Crane. To put it in real-life terms, when someone says, "I'm a CEO of xyz company" we don't immediately think Bernie Madoff or Kenneth Lay.

I'd really like a "do-over" on that conversation. On second thought, I think I'll go watch Dead Poet's Society and call it a day.

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