To really learn how to attract strong students to K-12 teaching, visit my classroom and listen to my students

If Representative Manny Diaz, the Florida Legislature’s leading advocate for the controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, really wants to learn what it would take to attract more strong students to K-12 teaching, he should visit my classroom and listen to my students.

But I don’t want to just call out Republican legislators on this.  Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall should visit my classroom and listen.  So should colleagues in my own university’s College of Education.  Governor Scott should come.  So should the Superintendent of Schools and school board members from any district in Florida that cares about attracting more talented individuals into teaching.

What would they learn?  I don’t know for sure – after all it’s not 100% clear that my students would be totally open and transparent with their professor in a high-pressure physics class.  But from those who might under the right circumstances consider teaching careers (and certainly that’s a minority in a class full of students majoring in engineering, computer science and physical sciences) you might hear that they would want to work in a school where teachers feel as if they have a genuine chance to help their students learn and where their successes (or failures) will be measured in a valid way that recognizes their students’ circumstances.  Teachers want to be valued – and that means in part that they want to be compensated in such a way that they can (if they choose) start families.

Students who have been told by their own high school teachers that teaching in Florida is an awful profession – and many of my students were told this in high school – are almost certainly not going to choose that career path.

Perhaps you are thinking at this point, “Paul, none of those people you are talking about is going to visit your classroom and listen to your students.”  If you are thinking that, you are wrong.

Next month, the Chair of the Bay County School Board, Ginger Littleton, is going to visit my classroom with two of the district’s teacher recruiters.  They are going to introduce themselves to my students, and tell them why Bay County is a special place to teach.  Then they are going to listen – not to me, but to my students.

Bay County is already making it clear that they are serious about recruiting strong individuals into their schools.  The district is offering $5,000 signing bonuses to new teachers in some math, science, special education and language subjects.  That may or may not be enough to coax a strong student who is on the fence about a teaching career into giving it a try.  But it is a serious attempt to make teaching in Bay County more attractive to our (you might say) best and brightest.

And then there is the distance – the district will be sending three of their highest ranking people more than a hundred miles to spend two days in our physics department.  That itself is a signal that recruiting strong teachers in math and science is very important to Bay District Schools.

So to Manny, Mike, Rick, Joanne and whoever else really cares about making our schools a career home for some of our best and brightest, I say come visit and listen.  You’ll learn a great deal about what it will take to propel Florida’s schools to the next level.

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