Recruiting a few good men, to teach

Our local paper has been full of interesting stuff the past week — as it should be.

On August 30 the Dallas Morning News editorialized in favor of more men in teaching — citing a study that found men in the classroom improve the academic performance of male students.  (The newspaper said it is a study by economist Thomas Dee at Swarthmore, but it provides a link to a Hoover Institution magazine that does not mention the study . . . [grumble].)

For anyone looking for new arguments to get more men into the classroom, it’s tempting to hold up the new study as a manifesto. Could more men teachers help stem the hemorrhaging dropout numbers for boys? Or reverse the dwindling percentage of boys headed to college? Are more single-sex schools the answer?

The study is certainly not the last word on the matter; the author hopes it could be a jumping-off point for fine-tuning how schools entice youngsters into absorbing information. We hope so.

We also hope the study could be an enticement for the next young man to hear that calling to the classroom. And the next. And the next …

There should be no mystery about how to attract qualified male teachers.  How about we start by paying a competitive wage?  Teaching is a profession where one can take time out, spend seven or ten years getting a Ph.D., and then get a job that pays roughly what a garbage collector would make had he started collecting garbage at the time the teacher starting the march to the graduate degrees.  A recent graduate of our local high school spent a few months’ training with the Army Reserve, and upon return has an administrative job with a local police department — at a salary equal to a degreed teacher with a few years’ experience.  Cops on the beat don’t make enough, either — but someone who spends a decade getting ready to teach should do better than a rookie cop not on the beat.

In contrast, MBAs at accounting firms start out around six figures.  They often have less education and less experience than the teachers — and they are expendable (look at how many are weeded out by the firm in the first three years).  But with that kind of salary offered, a kid might make a well-reasoned calculation that two years of graduate business school and a life in accounting would be better than a Ph.D. and a life teaching in public schools.  I think it patently unfair to say that teaching then gets the leftovers — but it makes one wonder, doesn’t it?

Public schools are the only enterprises where we demand higher standards for the employees, and then hold salaries down until the employees reach the standards.  In every other line of work, the market raises wages.  We might learn a lot by observing (was that Stengel or Berra?)

For those conservatives who ask that education be treated more like a free market — do they really anticipate what would happen were that to occur?  A good teacher is easily worth as much as a starting accountant.  Why not use market devices to improve education?  Raise the wages. 

More men, and more highly-qualified women, will pursue teaching when we let the salaries float to levels comparable to other industries with similar demands and education requirements.  I read Milton Friedman — vouchers or no vouchers, he makes the case that education will be mired in mediocrity until we spend the money to attract the best people possible to teaching, and to keep them there.

6 Responses to Recruiting a few good men, to teach

  1. steven says:

    Per the U.S. Department of Education website only 5% of all teachers and only 5% of all mathematics and science teachers have more than a masters degree. Just for your info.


  2. edarrell says:

    Teachers in Texas must have four years of college at least, including about an extra year of teaching experience. Teachers must pass a battery of exams that are whimsical (I won’t say difficult), and endure background checks more rigorous that CPAs when I was watching CPAs. It cost me roughly six times the amount for teacher licensing that it cost me for an attorney’s license.

    College teaching doesn’t compare to public schools. It’s much easier, with people who want to be there. Generally, I’d say most experienced college teachers wouldn’t teach 5th through 8th grades.

    My point stands — you’re not working to get a teaching certification. You claim it’s easier, but you’re going for the bucks. If it were easy money, states wouldn’t be paying millions extra to get math teachers.

    I would think that CPAs worried about the future of their profession would be paying attention. A lack of top-notch math teachers may easily mean a dearth of accounting candidates in the future.

    Of course, immigrants from Pakistan and India and China will be glad for the work.


  3. steven says:

    Dear Ed,

    I didn’t say that teaching was a lot easier than what I do (you can read). I said that I work harder than most (if not all) of the teachers in my area. I also said that it is harder to become a CPA than a teacher. You don’t have to be a Ph.D to become a teacher. A bachelors degree will work just fine. CPA’s have to have five years of college now (but not when I became a CPA), and they have to pass an extremely difficult exam and have a certain amount of expreience in the profession (the experience requirement varies by state). By the way, I have taught too. At the junior college level. So I know something about teaching.

    Not all school districts require teachers to pay for their continuing education credits. My wife worked in a school district that paid for continuing education.

    You do exaggerate.

    I have several friends that at both CPAs and attorneys, and they tell me that the CPA exam is much more difficult than the bar exam.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    I know dozens of Ph.Ds teaching in public schools. I have a J.D., and having worked at Ernst & Young, I know that most public school teachers work a lot harder than most big accounting firm accountants. Plus they are required, at their own expense, to maintain all their continuing education credits, and licensing fees. The big firms provide all of that for free. Most public school teachers must spend about 6% of their salary to equip their classrooms — big firm accountants don’t.

    Under No Child Left Behind, Texas has a ten-month contract (and has had for several years). In the “two months off” period, teachers are required to attend an additional week of mandatory district work, plus take care of their educational requirements. In Texas, teacher continuing education is more than that required of lawyers (but don’t get me going on relative quality in terms of application to improving education).

    The fact remains that, if we wish to attract people like you to teaching, we need to pay more. Despite your claims that teaching is a lot easier than what you do, you aren’t trying to break in to teaching that you say.

    The large accounting firms start at four to six weeks of vacation per year, too — paid. Teachers get zero paid vacation.

    I’m no big fan of Howard Dean, but I thought he got it right in his speech to the teachers during his campaign for the presidency. He noted, first, that he had been a public school teacher before he went to medical school. He said he didn’t have the bladder capacity to be a teacher (accountants restricted on bathroom breaks? that would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act and several others). Then he noted how difficult teaching is, and how few people actually know how the system works. Teaching is a performance job — like an accountant making a pitch to the board of directors of a company you’d like to get as a client — for five to seven hours a day. It requires people skills most accountants and lawyers will never come close to achieving. And teachers come close to being the only solo acts left in the world — when the performance goes on, there is no stage manager to make sure the lights, curtains and props all go as planned; there is no office support staff to make it work, no secretary to do scheduling and take held calls, no one else to do the typing and computer work, no researchers to hit the library for the teacher.

    I exaggerate nothing. We demand accountability from teachers while denying them the tools to do the job. We demand performance beyond rational physical limits, and we pay poorly in most districts. The only hope for staffing schools in many states is getting people laid off from other industries who have some alternative certification. Those people stay on the job an average of three years, two years less than those trained in education schools.

    Any accountant should be able to look at those numbers and see there is a problem. Pay is one part of the problem, perhaps the chief part of the problem of attracting really talented people to the job.


  5. steven says:

    Come on. How many Ph.D’s do you know that are teaching in public schools? I just happen to be a CPA working in public accounting, and I also hold an MBA. I work a lot harder than most (if not all) of the teachers in my area. And I do it for 12 months a year, not 9 months like teachers. I can also tell you that its a lot harder to become a CPA than a teacher. Our continuing education requirements are about twice that of teachers (my former wife was a teacher, so I know something about this). I do a lot of tax returns for teachers, and they do pretty well for working 9 months a year.

    I’m not saying that teachers are overpaid by any means, but you are exaggerating the situation.


  6. Terry Maxwell says:

    Our small Master’s Degree program has been regularly occupied by students who received teacher certification with their Bachelor’s Degree, did their student teaching, and decided “No way.” They then came back to graduate school to escape secondary teaching. Reasons abound for their decisions, but it all boils down to professional dissatisfaction. It is better for us all that some of them did not go ahead and try to teach, but others would have been good at it.


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