Some reform movements are indirect attacks on the teaching profession. Consider Teach for America. Can someone teach effectively after having attended a ten-or-twelve week training session by a corporate sponsor? Why don’t we have programs like “Become a Doctor or Nurse and Diagnose for America,” “Fly Commercial Airlines for America,” “Extinguish a Fire for America,” or “Litigate” for America? Of course, no one would want the services of a doctor, an airline pilot, fireman or a lawyer who is trained in only 12 weeks. Why should it be acceptable to allow children to be taught by a non-professional impersonator?
Most people do not realize the time and effort needed to prepare for just one class each day. High school teachers teach at least five classes, which entails two or three different courses. It is not like Dead Poets Society or Stand and Deliver, either. This isn’t to say that there is a lack of drama all of the time. Sometimes it is quite exhilarating; nevertheless, teachers also work at home preparing lessons, grading compositions and tests, and studying curricula without any fanfare.
Teaching requires more than knowledge of the material. An ex-teacher once told me managing a class was like “trying to keep twenty beach balls under water at once.” Self-control is not always an easy skill to grasp for adolescents. A teacher realizes that his or her strength and composure are what stands between a well-ordered classroom and the sudden eruption of entropy.
It is sad that fifty percent of teachers will leave the profession within their first five years. I have taught for ten years at an affluent school district in Illinois, and not one day has been easy. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for teachers working in poor inner-city neighborhoods without the resources we have. (If you are curious why Japan, Singapore, and Finland have such strong school systems, ask yourself how many blighted slums there are in each country. The correlation is not coincidental). Indeed, as Diane Ravitch has pointed out numerous times: Schools in affluent neighborhoods in America are doing as well as any in the world. That important fact is also lost in the debate.
None of this is to say that I hate being a teacher. I love being a teacher. It is to say that most of my fellow citizens have a lot to learn about the nature of what it is that teachers confront every day. This is just "the tip of the [teaching] iceberg."