I’m a grad student at a large urban university in the American Northeast. This school has many buildings. Some big, some small. Some old, some new. This is the story of two buildings.
Building A and Building B are neighbors. They live on the same major street that runs through the center of the university. Between them runs a small street.
Both buildings are academic buildings, filled with classrooms and offices for faculty and staff.
Building A is an older building. It’s of a moderate size. It’s got character, mind you, but it’s a bit run down. Well, in some ways it’s quite run down. The heating and air conditioning are quirky, so it’s usually too hot or too cold. The stairways are narrow, and the elevators often on the fritz.
Building B is a newer building. Taller. Concrete. Modern. When you walk in, you are greeted by a cavernous entryway, tiled in marble. In the center is a large metallic abstract sculpture, somewhat evocative of a globe. Everything is expansive and expensive. Shiny.
When you walk into Building A, the space that you enter is a bit dimly lit. There’s a somewhat dingy carpeted sort of lounge area with some cushioned seats in front of you, and to your right, there’s a an area with a linoleum floor and a few cafeteria-style tables and chairs. Building A has a few vending machines: a soda machine, a candy and snack machine, and one of those hot beverage machines that can give you a watery cup of hot chocolate or a cup of coffee that you might turn to in a fit of caffeine desperation, but would never choose to drink.
In Building B, though, you can stroll up the sweeping double stair case with its wide marble steps to the second floor, where you can buy a scone and a caramel macchiato at a Starbucks. Or you can opt to get a more substantial lunch, or perhaps a light salad, at the gourmet soup and sandwich shop next to the Starbucks.
Building B is a showcase building for the university. Higher ups in the administration have installed their offices in part of the building. Building B often provides venues for important guest lecturers and other high-profile university events.
Building A is a respectable building, but next to Building B, it looks downright shabby.
These two buildings have in common that they house academic departments and graduate programs that focus on investing in the future. One of these two buildings is called the School of Management, and houses the business programs. The other building is called the School of Education, and houses teaching programs. Do I even need to tell you which building is which?
I’m really not making this up. The two buildings really do face each other, often seeming to me as some sort of concrete and brick manifestations of the very attitudes and trends of our society. Education programs are underfunded, schools are underfunded. Meanwhile, the focus of society is on the business of making money.
So many of our schools are struggling to make do. Many classrooms are overcrowded, many schools are short of up-to-date textbooks and resources. But a good school is not just about the size of the classroom and the quality and quantity of materials: a good school needs good teachers. It’s saddened me over the years to learn of so many bright and idealistic people who enter teaching, only to suffer burnout. The public schools, and especially the city schools, lead to the fastest burnout. Among many factors that contribute to this problem is that teachers get the short end of the stick in our society in terms of pay and prestige. In spite of the difficulty of the task, the need for commitment, the knowledge, patience and strength required to do this incredibly important work, public school teachers are typically not paid well. Certainly, they are not getting the sort of income that those who choose to follow career paths laid out in business professions.¹
Those who enter education programs, who choose to become educators, are often considered impractical dreamers. Sometimes it’s assumed that they aren’t motivated enough, or even bright enough, for other career options. It is taken for granted that teachers will not get paid particularly well.
Let’s face it. Our society values money. And pay is often a reflection of prestige. And teachers are just not getting as much of either of those as they deserve for their contribution to society.
This is just to say that I hope for a day when the pride that universities show in their education programs equals that of business programs. But in order to see that shift, our society will need to re-evaluate attitudes towards education professions.
¹ From the U.S. Bureau of the Census.²
Earnings for “Management, professional, and related occupations”
Earnings for “Education, training, and library occupations”
² I seem to be developing an addiction to using footnotes in my posts.