Everything Old is New Again: “Teachers are Terrible! But You Should Become a Teacher!”

Michael Bloomberg, 2012 State-of-the-City Address:

"…we are raising the bar for teachers, just as we are for students. This year, we’ll do more to make sure every classroom has an effective teacher – and to remove those who don’t make the grade."

Barack Obama, 2011 State-of-the-Union Address:

“We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. …  In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher. Your country needs you. ”

Geoffrey Canada, 2010 Clinton Global Initiative Appearance:

"Here’s something that absolutely needs to be changed. I believe that if you’re a terrible teacher, you should be fired. I know, it sounds harsh. People are thinking, ‘Oh my God.’”  

"A Nation at Risk," 1983:

"The Commission found that not enough of the academically able students are being attracted to teaching; that teacher preparation programs need substantial improvement; that the professional working life of teachers is on the whole unacceptable; and that a serious shortage of teachers exists in key fields."

 Richard Hofstadter, 1964, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

"All too often, however, in the history of the United States, the schoolteacher has been in no position to serve as a model for an introduction to the intellectual life. Too often he has not only no claims to an intellectual life of his own, but not even an adequate workmanlike competence in the skills he is supposed to impart. Regardless of his own quality, his low pay and common lack of personal freedom have caused the teacher’s role to be associated with exploitation and intimidation."

Charles William Eliot, 1901, Educational Reform: Essays and Addresses:

"…the average skill of the teachers in the public schools may be increased by raising the present low proportion of male teachers in the schools. Herein lies one of the great causes of the inferiority of the American teaching to the French and German teaching."

A philanthropist, 1842, cited in Pillars of the Republic, by Carl Kaestle:

“At least four-fifths of the teachers in the common schools in Illinois would not pass an examination in the rudiments of our English language, and most of them have taken to teaching because they hadn’t anything in particular to do.”

Catharine Beecher, 1829, Suggestions Respecting Improvements in Education:

"Most of the defects which are continually discovered and lamented in present systems of education may be traced, either directly or indirectly, to the fact that the formation of the minds of children has not been made a profession securing wealth, influence, or honor to those who enter it. … [Teaching] has been looked upon as the resource of poverty, or as a drudgery suited only to inferior minds and far beneath the aims of the intellectual aspirant for fame and influence, or of the active competitor for wealth and distinction. The consequence of this has been, as a general fact, that this profession has never, until very recently, commanded or secured the effort of gifted minds. These have all forsaken this for a more lucrative or a more honorable avenue; and few have engaged in it except those whose talents would not allow them to rise in other professions, or those who only made it a temporary resort, till better prospects should offer."

3 thoughts on “Everything Old is New Again: “Teachers are Terrible! But You Should Become a Teacher!”

  1. Mike

    I think that the position that teachers are terrible so we need to recruit better ones is not inconsistent.

    I just don’t think society values primary education enough to do it. When the average salary of a lawyer is 80,000 and the average salary of a teacher is 40,000 I don’t see any reason why someone would choose to become a teacher.

    Well, except for the fact that the job market for lawyers is terrible.

  2. Purpleview

    Honestly all I can do it laugh.
    I feel as though instead of spending the time, energy and money to support those amazing teachers we already have, we simply try to recruit new ones and the cycle continues.

    That being said, in my experience there are still many teacher preparation programs that do not have high enough standards, nor are they rigorous enough to truly equip the next generation of educators.

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    While the quotes are useful, your lack of commentary seems to imply that we are just experiencing more of the same rhetoric, and that life goes on as usual. The reality, of wholesale school closings, privatization of policy-making and public resources, the de-professionalizationn of teaching, is occurring with speed and at orders of magnitude beyond anything we’ve seen before.

    Public education is currently dominated by people who don’t believe in including the public. You’d be doing people more of a service by writing about that, rather than your validating of the ed reform status quo with an “objective” pose.


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