At a Business Roundtable event today featuring rockstars Wendy Kopp, Mike Feinberg, Chris Barbic, Jon Schnur, and Tim Daly, I was most struck by a small caveat that Feinberg made when comparing his KIPP teachers’ schedules to those of average business workers. They both work 7:30-5:00 days, but the teachers are working with kids. There’s no slacking off. They can’t exactly pull a Peter Gibbons of Office Space fame. When asked by the consultants, the infamous Bobs, to describe his daily schedule, he responds:
Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way Lumbergh can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.
Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.
Anyone who’s worked in an office knows what Peter is talking about here. And anyone who’s worked with kids knows that teachers can’t “just sorta space out” for a while.
The event today focused on taking the still relatively small reforms that TFA, TNTP, YES, KIPP, and New Leaders have implemented and taking them to scale. For example, how do we attract and retain enough teachers and principals willing to give up the Peter Gibbons moments for a career raising student achievement levels?
One of the panelists mentioned something about how quality teachers and principals are like all good leaders in that they set high goals and constantly assess their progress, and then they quickly said “like generals.” The conversation moved on, but I got stuck on that. What if we were to recruit and train teachers like the Army does for soldiers? Of course, teaching does not equal war, but there are lessons in recruitment and training. The Army gives large signing bonuses, especially for educational attainment and specific organizational needs. They train members in a relatively short period of time by building teamwork and getting recruits to buy into the mission and accept a common purpose. Members must demonstrate mastery before advancing in pay or rank, and when they finish their commitment, they are either given more bonuses to stay on, or take their occupational prestige with them to the private sector.
Granted, this is essentially the TFA/ TNTP model, but the key difference is the relative lack of integration within organizations. The military is absolutely seamless in comparison, while local, state, and federal governments, in addition to teacher colleges, non-profits, national councils, and unions all meddle in teacher issues. Maybe there’s something there. Maybe we need some sort of national teaching cadre a la the Peace Corps or the Army. Heck, maybe we should make service in one of the agencies required, like Israel, Denmark, and Germany. The Peter Gibbons lifestyle is just too tempting.