“They’re turning teaching into a fling career.” — K. G., class discussion, 12 Feb., 2019
Last spring, in the Foundations of Schooling course I teach for pre-service teachers at my college, my students and I were discussing an article recounting the changing demographic of the US teaching force toward younger teachers with less experience. In particular, the authors claim that the demographic shift is neither healthy nor is it accidental. In the United States, in recent years there have been increasingly common narratives about “bad teachers” as the primary cause of perceived low student performance. This bad teacher narrative has been propagated and exploited effectively by those who wish to undermine the influence of teachers unions and, especially, worker protections like tenure so that they can reduce public funding to schools and, in many cases, turn them over to the private sector. The underlying assumption is that privatization is inherently more efficient and produces better outcomes, thus, “lazy,” “coddled,” and “incompetent” public school teachers (and the institutions that prepare them) stand in the way of good schooling. This justifies, then, replacing more experienced and thus more expensive teachers with less-experienced teachers. Naturally, this also happens to require lower spending on teacher salaries over all, thus justifying the state’s choking of public funds.
Often during this exercise my students are so focused on the task at hand– discerning basic elements of the text’s argument and rhetoric– that they do not offer many of their own thoughts of the text and, especially, what it says about education generally and their future career choice specifically. Nearly all of my students intend to teach in the future; most will end up in public schools within about an hour of our campus. To become licensed teachers, they must complete a major in a content area (i.e. Elementary Education, Mathematics, English/Language Arts, a science, History, etc.) and, in our state of Idaho, they must also complete a significant amount of coursework in a second teaching field. On top of that, they must complete their coursework in education pedagogy, most of which focuses on methods, issues of student development, etc. Our preparation program is also a five-year program, a year beyond the traditional undergraduate course. These are not typically students looking for the easy path. So you can imagine my student’s consternation when she shriveled her brow and, with an exasperated sigh, coined the phrase “fling career” to describe these programs that predominate in the United States that require very little preparation and arguably even less commitment from the teachers. Just as a romantic “fling” expects no long-term commitment, has no expectation of further contact beyond the immediate intimate transaction, so a fling career is one without any commitment between the transacting parties.
I empathize with my student’s frustration about the transmogrification of her chosen career. ““It is becoming increasingly clear that whatever we are willing to do to each other in business we will eventually do to children in schools” (Purpel & McLaurin, Jr., 2004, p. 255). If we wish to do right by our students, we need to do right by our teachers. As curriculum theorist Dwayne Huebner notes, “schools are not designed to support the living that teaching is.” If we continue to treat our teachers as just more “gig” workers grinding (or ground up?) the wheels of neoliberal capitalism, we can only expect more demoralized teachers and burnt out teachers and more demoralized students. But, they will certainly return profit to 1% of humankind (even as all of humankind loses it soul).
1. What can the public do to demand that the teachers serving their students are given time to grow in their experience, given supportive professional development, and are sustained in their careers?
2. What effects of the neoliberal “gig” economy have you experienced in your school contexts? How are teachers responding? What about pre-service teachers?
Frazer, J. (2019, Feb. 15). How the gig economy is reshaping careers for the next generation. Forbes [online]. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfrazer1/2019/02/15/how-the-gig-economy-is-reshaping-careers-for-the-next-generation/#8f1028b49ada
Hall, M. & Sipley, G. (2014, June 9). The greening of the American teacher. Aljazeera America [online]. Retrieved from http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/6/education-teachercharterschoolstenure.html
Huebner, D. (1987/1999). Teaching as a Vocation. In V. Hillis, (Ed.), The Lure of the Transcendent: Collected Essays of Dwayne E. Huebner (pp. 379-387). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Purpel, D. E. and McLaurin, Jr., W. M. (2004). Reflections on the Moral and Spiritual Crisis in Education. New York: Peter Lang.