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Gary Rubinstein’s Blog: Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Teachers

A rising superstar in education is Rutgers student Stephanie Rivera, who I first wrote about last year.  Stephanie just published a very compelling blog post called To All The Teachers Telling Us To Not Go Into Teaching, Stop.  In response to the recent flood of videos and blog posts by frustrated teachers, Stephanie suggests that these warnings may not be serving a good purpose.  Stephanie concludes:

This fight against harmful, corporate education reforms will not be won with more teachers quitting. This fight will not be won by telling future teachers–who are going into the profession with  the right intentions, with the proper more-than-5-weeks training–not to enter the field. We will win by working towards educating more future educators of what is happening. Rather than telling them to not go into the field, and instead discussing ideas on how a powerful resistance can be built together. Imagine young future educators coming across articles titled: “Why I Revolted, “Why I Resisted,” or “Why I Was Fired for Not Teaching to Test,” rather than the ever so common,”Why I Quit.”

I know that many of the current teachers encourage us not to enter the field because they want to protect us. Thanks, but no thanks. We don’t need your protection, we need you to stay strong and stand up for what you know is right. We don’t need your protection, we need you to stand up for the future of your students, the future of our profession–and thank you to all of the current educators out there who have been doing this tirelessly. We need to know when we enter the classroom, you will stand fearlessly beside us.

We don’t need your protection, we need your solidarity.

I am a big fan of Rivera, but I have a different view on this issue and will likely continue advising people against becoming teachers right now, but for a reason that she doesn’t address.

For years I have been hearing about how the baby boomers were going to retire from teaching and there would be massive teacher shortages looming.  As time passed, that big teacher shortage never seemed to come and I got the feeling that this was unnecessary worrying.

But with the current wave of education ‘reform’ that teachers and students are enduring, I do believe that the predictions about mass retirings with not enough new teachers to replace them is the natural consequence of all the tampering in education by people who don’t understand the landscape of schools and education.  In California, already, they have seen a 40% drop in the number of teacher candidates between 2003 and 2009.  The U.S. Department of Education, together with Microsoft and TFA, three organizations, ironically, that have helped cause the potential teacher shortage, have launched a campaign, recently, to help recruit more people to be teachers.

Assuming that the ‘reform’ movement continues to gain momentum (and lately it has been losing momentum, thankfully) veterans will retire while the new teachers would likely fall into two categories:  1)  Smart, brave people like Stephanie Rivera who, knowing full well, what a dangerous task it is to enter this profession under these conditions, and 2)  Oblivious people who don’t even realize what sorts of things are going on right now with ‘reform.’  Anyone in the middle, like smart people who maybe aren’t willing to risk their sanity on this ’cause,’ but who would have made very good teachers, will simply choose another profession.

I don’t think that these two groups of people will be enough to replace all the frustrated teachers who retire, and if this happens I’ll have mixed feelings.

Of course I’ll feel bad for all the students who have to suffer with unqualified teachers from all the make-shift alternative placement programs that are sure to spring up to fill the void.  But if this were to happen and the education system in this country started to actually fall apart for lack of teachers as a direct result of overzealous, but misinformed, education ‘reformers,’ everyone would start asking “What caused this mess?” and the answer would be obvious that we allowed the wrong people to have too much power to experiment with our education system.  And then, if there would be a silver lining in all this, the corporate reformers would finally be banished from influencing education policy — once and for all.

I know that partially ‘rooting’ for a crisis doesn’t seem like a nice thing to do.  But it is similar to when, if you have a loved one who is acting self-destructively, like abusing drugs.  You think:  “If he would just get a DUI and have to spend a few nights in jail, then maybe he’d hit ‘rock bottom’ and use that as a wake-up call to get his life back in order.”  Maybe, under the influence of the corporate reform types, education needs to hit rock bottom.

There is a better alternative, and this is where I am in agreement with Rivera.  If we can keep the momentum going, maybe we can defeat the rich and powerful special interests that are threatening education.  Having young teachers help with the fight can definitely help with that.

Still, it takes quite a gallant person to enter the teaching profession under these conditions.  I don’t think most people can endure it, but I am grateful that there will be some like Stephanie Rivera willing to charge head-first into the belly of the beast, fully aware of the dangers.  Perhaps she will help prevent a corporate reform induced teacher shortage.

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...