Have you seen the ExxonMobil commercials about teachers? The adverts remind us that on standardized math and science tests, students in the US are faring poorly against those from other countries.
In response, ExxonMobil has created its own Teacher Academy, fronted by professional golfer Phil Mickelson. Yup, it's a science and math teacher's academy, run by an oil company and named for a golfer.
You do the math.
THE NEW OIL: GREAT TEACHING
Times are changing in education. Those who work in educational policy-- including some of my good friends-- are deeply involved in the political question about WHO should pay for what. It's an incredibly important and vital question. But I contend we keep skipping the question of WHERE the money should go.
The key to better schools and better education is attracting and maintaining great teachers.
Exxon’s point appears to be that we mostly need better training for teachers. They're putting some money into doing it, too, which is commendable, even if you don't like rockstar golfers. But is it how we improve schools?
I have a lot of experience in teacher training: I've been through graduate programs, seminars, professional development, staff meetings... I've seen what people are doing to train us. It is not good. Every once in a while, you actually learn something in PD. But most of the time, it is dismal parody of itself. It's bad teaching about good teaching. It'd be funny it weren't so bloody sad or frustrating.
WHERE ARE THE GREAT TEACHERS?
ExxonMobil, along with the US Dept of Ed and countless teacher colleges want to know: how can you train a person into being a GREAT teacher?
My answer is simple: unless the training is amazing, you can’t. And, frankly, most training sucks.
Yes, you can help a lousy teacher become less lousy. With a lot of work and a great culture, you can take a decent teacher and make them pretty good, certainly. Training IS important-- it's simply not AS important as attracting and keeping talent.
You want people like LeBron James or Phil Mickelson on your team? A workshop once a year is not the ticket.
The notion that anyone can be trained into being a good teacher is a distraction from the ugliest open secret in education: we aren't attracting the best people for the job.
great teachers are any nation's most valuable natural resource.
most teacher training is a parody of itself:
WHERE ARE THE REST OF THE TALENTED TEACHERS?
So, where are all of the talented teachers?
Well, some of them are in the classrooms where we need them, thankfully.
But there are many more who aren’t teachers by trade. They have taken their talents to other professions. Hell, some of them are in probably in advertising, coming up with stuff like this for ExxonMobil. They’re making money doing something else.
The bottom line is: we don’t have a skill problem. We have a talent problem. Exxon Mobil, I'm glad you want to help out teachers. You guys over at your company know how to attract talent, right?
You have to pay for it. It's not a training problem. Talent is a salary problem.
Oh, and the Emperor is naked. Again.
-Mickelson ExxonMobile, NYSE. July 26, 2013.
-Toy Cars at the Met, Aug 2014. Mike Kleba.
-LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a free throw during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Cintas Center on October 15, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Joe Robbins—Getty Images.