The Atlanta Journal Constitution (a publication I admittedly know next to nothing about) published this article describing US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s efforts to get more black males into the teaching force. Duncan traveled to Morehouse College in Atlanta to encourage the men to major in education or at least to consider organizations such as Teach for America so that the increasingly diverse American K-12 student population can look up and see a teacher they can identify with and from whom they can (supposedly) learn more efficiently.

I am assuming that these upstanding young black men have two goals in mind aside from the usual college debauchery: (1) Get a good paying job upon graduation and (2) Get a job with staying power. You know what job does not fit that bill? Teaching. These mean salary websites illustrate that teacher salaries average about $40,000 to $50,000 a year depending on where in the country you are looking. Much of the difference in average (and starting salary) by state has to do with living expenses relative to the area in which the teacher will be working. I can say from experience that unless a student receives a fantastic scholarship in his or her undergrad, a starting salary of $33,000 in, say, Phoenix, Arizona isn’t going to get you very far if you want to live in a safe neighborhood, pay all of your utilities, those credit card bills, AND your student loan payments.

Concerning staying power I would argue that there has never been a more volatile time to enter the teaching profession. With a GOP slashing state funding for schools (and other “non-essentials”) and Democrats moving for more of the same student performance based evaluation of teachers, why would anyone want to be a teacher  right now?

Duncan suggests that these men take into consideration the fact that the federal government  will forgive your loans if you teach in certain schools for five consecutive years. I want you to look seriously at where these schools are located. Seriously, pick a state. Then look that school up on google maps. Do you want to live there? Work there? Shop for groceries? FOR FIVE YEARS? I wish I had time to go into the statistics on teacher mobility and teacher attrition, because honestly the odds are against everyone on this program. Additionally teachers can only qualify for between $5,000 and $17,500 dollars of federal loans to be forgiven.

Morehouse College costs around $32,000 a year to attend. Again, unless these guys have some awesome scholarships they will have significantly more than $17,500 in loans when they leave, and then the question has to be asked:

Would you rather work in a place where you want to live, earning a decent wage that allows you to make your student loan payments on time? Or would you rather work 5 years of your life away in an area that is either hostile or remote (or both) with a salary that probably will not allow for your student loan payments anyway only to have $17,500 forgiven as the max allowable? (BTW, that’s $3,500 a year.)

Honestly I’d rather major in what I enjoy, get a job that I know I will know how to do, and make a salary that accounts for that $3,500 a year than work somewhere I don’t want to be just for that paltry handout. Come back to be with FULL forgiveness of ALL loans for, say, 10 consecutive years of service and then we’re talking.

Another disturbing statement included in the article was that everyone can’t be business majors, and that teaching should be viewed as a way to touch lives and enrich communities. When are we going to stop romanticizing education in this country? Most public schools are factories in which teachers are pumping out curriculum prescribed by the district office in an effort to make their students get as good marks as possible on the state mandated test so they can (a) keep their jobs and (b) get whatever measly incentive pay that might be attached to the scores. Never mind that the kids are going home to no parents and taking care of their siblings. Never mind that students are attached to a technological screen for more time at home than ever before. Add these factors to the ever-present attitude that teachers hold full responsibility for student performance, completely ignoring the parents’ role in reinforcing concepts through homework help and guidance and you have not an enriched community but an “us vs. them” war zone.

All of this leads back to the race issue for me. Central to this argument is the “come on black men, represent!” cry heard around the world when certain people are watching and ask “Why is our teaching force so female and white?” If anyone wants the studies please let me know and I will find them and post them here as proof, but here it is: elementary education is handled primarily by women, secondary education by men, a great majority of which are white. This is because our education system developed and gained strength during a time when blacks in this country were still slaves or escaping the regulations and discrimination left after slavery had been abolished. I mean seriously, our schools were in full swing when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Blacks have had a mere 45 years in our 200+ year history as a country to take advantage of full rights as citizens and as humans and even now they are still discriminated against in certain areas. And the argument “We should have more black people doing this because we don’t have any right now” always ran a bit thin for me.

Now if I was a black man (and I’m not) of moderate to high intelligence and was thinking of college and I wanted to escape the poverty, oppression, and disrespect I or my family had experienced, I would run to business or psychology or chemistry or biology. Anything but the degrading, oppressive, low-paying profession of teaching. Some people love what they do in education and I say good, because someone has to do it. As for the black men that Arne Duncan seems so ready to push into teaching, I say to you to continue doing what you are doing as long as you enjoy it and get a job doing that if you can, because teaching will not earn you the money, respect, or freedom that you so richly deserve. (And now might not be the best time in our economy to attach ourselves to a government agency for our pay or retirement either, you know what I’m sayin’?)

Go forth, bring joy to others, and I’ll see you next time.