Is Teaching A Profession?

In a recent interview, “Teacher tenure has little to do with student achievement, economist says,” Washington Post reporter Max Ehrenfreund asked the following question of Jesse Rothstein, former Obama administration economist:

Eherenfreund: “Everyone agrees that the goal should be to make teaching a respected profession, a profession that talented and able people want to enter. So far, I’ve heard you say that there’s not a lot of evidence suggesting ways that that could be accomplished effectively. Is there one policy that we haven’t discussed?”

Rothstein: “We could double teachers’ salaries. I’m not joking about that. The standard way that you make a profession a prestigious, desirable profession, is you pay people enough to make it attractive. The fact that that doesn’t even enter the conversation tells you something about what’s wrong with the conversation around these topics. I could see an argument that says it’s just not worth it, that it would cost too much. The fact that nobody even asks the question tells me that people are only willing to consider cheap solutions. They’re looking for easy answers, not hard answers.”

Higher pay reflects poor comprehension of the fundamental nature of the problem and a poor, albeit likely necessary, part of the overall solution to the problem.

A hallmark of professionalism is a lack of errors. People who make a lot of errors are not considered to be “professional.” Unfortunately, teachers make a lot of errors, as do business leaders. In addition, people who provide a service, teaching, must comprehend what students want. Likewise, managers must understand what employees want, often don’t and, as a result, marginalize their interests to a great degree. On these grounds, it is difficult to characterize either teaching or management as a profession.

The good news is that the errors that teachers (and managers) make are easy to identify, and, If necessary, their root causes can be determined. This paves the way for identifying practical countermeasures to prevent errors from recurring. Teaching becomes a profession when this becomes part of one’s daily routine.

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