Who’s Teaching Your Children?

The Book of the Week is “Who’s Teaching Your Children?” by Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles, published in 2003.

This book describes the ominous future of education in the United States.  There is a dire teacher shortage which is slated only to get worse.  A vicious cycle accounts for this trend.  The authors ask, is it not a contradiction that parents demand quality teachers in their children’s schools but discourage their children from becoming teachers?

A large percentage of graduates who enter the teaching profession are not good students.  The ones who are, take more lucrative, rewarding jobs.  The teachers-to-be receive poor training.  For the most part, during their careers, they are underpaid and underappreciated.  No wonder the good students enter fields other than education.

Many teacher-training schools are for-profit institutions that need to fill seats to stay in business.  Therefore, in order to attract customers (graduates) they need to make obtaining teaching certification sufficiently easy.  “Grade inflation” (awarding higher grades than customers truly deserve in order to pass some customers who would otherwise fail) is one way they do so.

The authors present a scenario of their imagination, named, “The Millennium School.”  It is an elementary school that doubles as a teacher-training school, with a structure completely different from the usual American school’s.  It would be a small school with small classes, consisting of chief instructors “who supervise professional teachers, who supervise the teachers and associate teachers, who participate in supervising interns and instructional aides.”

Everyone on the team would be accountable for each child’s success or failure. The personnel would conduct classes and hold meetings as teams.  The school would be linked to a college, which would allow the teacher-trainees to fulfill the student-teaching component of their training, in teams.

I think the authors make exaggerated claims of such a school’s possible success, although it is a nice idea.  I like the team-teaching part.  However, the whole point is that power is distributed among many educators– they are supposed to cooperate, share ideas, and be rewarded with higher pay, more responsibilities and supervisory duties when they display an interest in advancing their careers. However, to me, this smacks of a corporate ladder.  Human nature is such that the ladder would spur competition rather than cooperation.  That would defeat the whole goal.

In addition, a school is a different sort of entity because it is funded by taxpayers. The kinds of operations a private company might fund for itself would not be possible for a school, due to a limited budget. There is an exception to this situation– in certain areas of this country, schools receive private monies from wealthy donors, making distribution of resources hugely uneven among schools.  As for the well-endowed schools, the funders are not educators, so they may have misguided notions of where to spend their money.  The money might go toward additional standardized testing, resources that reward corporate partners and activities relating to public relations, rather than toward real improvement in education quality.

Further, the government supervises the school, so there are politics from above and within.  The authors acknowledge the Millennium School model would necessarily be more expensive, but they argue that this model would eliminate many non-teaching positions, such as “curriculum coordinators, staff developers, teaching coaches,” etc. The resulting reduced payroll expenses would compensate for the raises received by the teachers and supervisors.

I think raises in pay would be extremely controversial– who would receive how much.  Theoretically, employees who acquired additional experience would deserve more pay.  However, the expedient way to measure the increase in education quality due to that increased experience, would probably be through standardized tests– another extremely controversial aspect of teaching.

I would suggest that various criteria be used to determine additional compensation for supervisors and teachers, that could include tests, as well as qualitative evaluations of supervisors, completed by teachers and trainees, and interviews with students.  Although I give them an “A” for effort, the authors present too simplified a model of the ideal school.

This is an informative, yet depressing book.

Walking on Walnuts

The Book of the Week is “Walking on Walnuts” by Nancy Ring, published in 1997.  This book is the career memoir of a pastry chef in New York City.  Ms. Ring discusses the uncertainty surrounding the fiercely competitive restaurant business in New York, and thus the attendant job insecurity of a pastry chef.  She discusses the details of the job– long hours, difficult bosses, hard work, and a hilarious episode in which The Fig Tree restaurant personnel were tipped off that a very influential restaurant reviewer, one Bette Brown, was to visit one night.

A woman fitting the reviewer’s description entered the eatery with her entourage.  She proceeded to complain about a draft at her table, then when moved, about being too close to the waiter’s station.  The bread basket caught fire from a candle on the table…  You can see where this is going– a long series of further mishaps, complaint-fodder for the fussy diner, “… who sarcastically asked Liz [the waitress] if she had graduated from high school.” Ms. Ring, who was also a waitress there at the time, witnessed Liz’s feisty temper flare as she finally told off the customer.

The supposed Ms. Brown confronted Carl, the restaurant owner, who, at the bar, was “… busy crying into his fourth double bourbon.” With the ‘don’t-you-know-who-I-am’ speech, she told off Carl, telling him her name.  It was not Bette Brown.  Carl was extremely relieved.  A good dining experience was had by the actual Bette Brown, who had been there earlier that evening.

This book contains not only entertaining anecdotes, but recipes, too.