Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Can we make the teaching profession noble again?

(Today's post is a guest post from Caroline Lewis, author of Just Back Off and Let Us Teach. Her bio and info about her book is at the end of this article. Thanks so much Caroline for a thought provoking article! - Pat)

“Can we make the teaching profession noble again? ”

Yes we can, and, more importantly, we must!

Teaching is losing its magic. Every year, the profession prematurely loses some of our most effective colleagues, AND we fail to attract to the profession enough top college graduates with the talent and passion for teaching.

Many of us blame the education reform movement for this. They are perhaps well intentioned, but leaders ignore the reality that successful public education requires development of three key pillars or legs of a stool: (A) the readiness-to-learn of the learners; (B) the quality of the teachers; and (C) the culture and tone of the school (leadership, resources, parental involvement, etc.)

We seem fixated on only one of the pillars, teachers, and not in ways that improve quality, but in ways that undermine, place blame and seriously demoralize too many good teachers. Somehow, in the debate on what constitutes successful education, the spotlight has become laser-focused on a teacher’s ability to get students to pass tests.

What’s easily measurable isn’t always what’s significant in teaching-learning environments. We have to recognize that effective teaching is about so much more. What a teacher truly contributes to an individual student’s attitude, ambition, choices, career paths, and so on may never truly be known. Teacher effectiveness is a complex issue as I detail in my book, and much is undocumented of the rich classroom exchanges between teachers and students.

For too many, teaching is now reduced to robotic drilling of information in preparation for tests. Teachers as caring, scholarly, creative, pedagogical wizards, is not the ideal being presented or acknowledged. The joy of teaching has been diminished, and the wind has been knocked out of teachers’ sails. They do not feel validated, much less fulfilled, and are vulnerable to burnout and despair in the current climate.

We must rethink our education strategy and change the current debate. I like to remind those who disagree with me that we cannot—we categorically cannot—reform public education if our pool of effective teachers continues to shrink. We must extol, not vilify, teaching, restoring nobility to the profession—it is the thing that drew me in. I fell in love with teaching in my early teens as I drank in the opportunity I saw teachers had to educate, engage, and make a difference in learning, lives, and schools.  Back in the 70’s teaching was still an honorable profession and it called out to me.

We can and must make the profession noble again.  Let’s change the focus of education reform, attend to all three legs of the stool, and put people like me on the team in charge of the TEACHING leg.

Here’s what I would do:

a.    Stop spending millions of education reform dollars on designing new systems of instruction and measurement every few years at local, state, and federal levels.

b.    Take this money and re-direct it to teacher salaries and meaningful professional development for teachers and administrators, including department chairpersons.

c.     Work, over the next five years, to raise the starting salary for teachers to $75K.  This will go a long way to attracting and retaining the brightest and the best.

d.    Require a certified Masters in Education for all teachers, and fund or heavily subsidize it for the brightest applicants with the talent and passion for teaching.

e.    Use these strategies to elevate the ranks of the teaching profession -
      Keep the pay scale high; require specific certification/training;
      Recognize our effective teachers and weed out those who don’t belong; and
      Attract and hire only the best teaching candidates.

Then we can Just Back Off and LET THEM TEACH…

About Caroline Lewis:
After spending 22 years as a science teacher and school principal, Caroline Lewis became director of education for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and developed the award-winning Fairchild Challenge to engage students in environmental issues. As founder and CEO of The CLEO Institute, she applies her educational leadership skills to promote solution-oriented approaches to address climate disruptions. A native of Trinidad, she earned an MS in Educational Leadership in 1999 and is committed to elevating and celebrating the teaching profession.

Visit the author online:

About the Book:
If America wants to reform public education and regain its status in the world, it must start valuing teachers and stop the present policy of commissioning study after study and revising measurement tests every few years. That assertion is made by author Caroline Lewis, who outlines reform in her new book Just Back Off and Let Us Teach: A Book for Effective Teachers and Those Who Champion Them. Both descriptive and motivational, Lewis' book defines five skills distinctive of effective teachers called SCOPE (Sensitivity, Communication, Organization, Professionalism, and Enthusiasm) Skills. Lewis encourages all teachers to self-examine and grade themselves on their own effectiveness using SCOPE Scores.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Caroline--I am more than halfway through your book.

AND I've been an elementary teacher for 24 years. (You know, those teachers whose classes offer "juice.")

I am thoroughly enjoying your book. It came at the perfect time for me.

Thanks for caring and continuing to care for students and for teachers.

Caroline Lewis said...

Thank you, Pat for hosting me! It means a great deal.

And thanks Sioux for your comment.

I am determined to change that national conversation in this country about education reform. The teaching profession must become noble again.

Renee Roberson said...


As the mother of two kids just finishing up third and fifth grade respectively, I know for a fact you do much more than just offer juice to your students :-) Doesn't Caroline have a great perspective on keeping things fresh in the classroom, regardless of what is going on with administration, parents, budget cuts, etc.?