The Future of Teaching

I have three kids. Intelligent kids. One now in college, one in high school, one in middle school. You won't find a prouder father or one more committed to seeing them through to a successful future.

A confession, though: I hope they won't become teachers.

My daughter has great leadership ability--to her high level of writing and organization, she adds a drive that just cannot be matched. She's competitive. She does what it takes to win. And when she declared a major in international business, I let out a sigh of relief.

My high-school-aged son loves science--biology in particular. He took honors Biology as a freshman. It's his favorite class. He has inherited the medicine gene that runs in our family--my wife is a physician's assistant. He has plenty of time to find other interests, but I hope it will be medicine. Not teaching.

This isn't meant to be a long complaint about my job as a teacher. There will be other times for this in my blog. It is to tie my kids and my family into the aspirations of families worldwide--aspirations that are less and less including desires to enter the teaching profession.

OECD's latest issue of PISA in Focus asks the question, "Who Wants to become a teacher?" Many of the answers they find are profound, getting to the bottom of current challenges with the profession, and looking forward towards an even more challenging future for education worldwide if significant changes aren't made.
  • The survey interviewed 15-year-olds in 60 countries. Overall, it found that 5% of students wanted to be teachers, or about one in ten of students who said in the survey that they planned to attend university (44% worldwide, 52% in the United States). In some countries like Ireland, Indonesia and South Korea, teaching is a very popular choice. Not in most, however.
  • There is a challenge with the "feminization" of the teaching workforce. There simply aren't enough male teachers--particularly in the lower grades and in poor communities where male role models are needed. In every country fewer 15-year-old boys than girls identified a teaching as a career option.
  • The math skills of students interested in teaching tends to lag behind those interested in other professions. As much as a parent like me imagines his high-numeracy 6th-grader as an engineer or computer programmer, we need math teachers to guide the next generation of American do-ers into professions that will build and invent here.
  • There is a connection between teacher pay and interest in the profession. Teachers in the United States earn less than 70% of the salary of other professionals with similar education levels. It shouldn't surprise anyone that students see other careers as avenues to buy a home, take vacations with their families, and live the life they want.
Here in the United States we are begining to see gaps in the teaching workforce. Next summer, no doubt, more districts will find thousands of teaching positions to fill, and find thsemselves scrambling to find high quality teachers to meet the needs. 

This study provides an accurate view of the future of the profession and provides solid suggestions to improve the teaching profession before things get even worse. Here are some suggestions--and not all of them cost a lot of money, although some do.
  • Kids carrying weapons around Afghanistan are "serving their country." Policemen in communities "keep us safe." These are commendations, but they are also important recruiting slogans. Personally, I think I serve my country--and I have for seventeen years in this role--but if I said that out loud, people would scoff and point to the guy with basic training, not the master's degree. Leaders need to promote the impact of teaching on American life in communities of all sizes.
  • When I visited the Republic of Georgia last spring, they had a similar problem and a much greater need (the average age of a teacher is 50 years old, and teachers earn only $500/year). They were focusing on developing and paying mentor-level teachers who could represent the profession, provided the long-term development needed to select and train beginning teachers, and pursue individual expertise in their chosen focus. The incentive in teaching shouldn't be based on test scores but on professionalism and impact on one's school and district. We should identify the expert teachers and give them the training, time and financial support to have outsized impacts on the profession.
  • Free tuition. A kid wants to be a doctor? Let him attend a state school tuition-free, pay back the tuition with two-to-four years of service in a public school, then send him on to medical school. More than a few will stay, and meanwhile the states will have dynamic young science and math teachers filling up our classrooms and inspiring young minds.