Twentieth Anniversary Birthday Greetings to the Chicago Teachers Union

Medinah Temple | October 28, 1957

I've learned that many teachers and teacher groups are opposed to 'publicity'. They consider it 'cheap sensationalism,' posturing, unprofessional, or just plain, old fashioned 'bad taste'. Some even profess to see the dangerous threat of 'merit pay' coming in through the back door. Well, I shall have to disagree. I think teachers and teacher organizations must demonstrate pride in the achievements of their members. They must be willing to accept honors, not necessarily for themselves alone, but as a recognition given the whole profession. Doctors and lawyers certainly do.

It is an unusual pleasure for me to have the opportunity to speak before teachers. Members of boards of education in large cities like Chicago talk mostly with administrators and superintendents. It is a rare occasion for a school board member to be face to face with such an imposing audience of living, flesh and blood classroom teachers.

School board members, in fact, spend so much time with administrators that last winter I found myself in Atlantic City at a convention being attended by 20,000 of them. I felt out of place until I heard one speaker tell this story:

A psychologist was giving an examination to a group of students interested in deciding upon their careers. One question was this: "If a cow’s tail were a leg, how many legs would a cow have?"

The psychologist reported the results as follows: all students who answered "4" were headed for mathematics. Calling a tail a leg, they realized, did not make it one.

The second group had the tendency to analyze the idea of calling the tail a leg and discussed at some length to what extent the tail could fulfill the function of a leg. They wanted to analyze and to experiment. According to the psychologist, these were potential natural scientists.

And there was a third group. When asked the question, they nodded their heads gravely, pursed their lips, and without looking directly at the questioner, replied: "Now that’s a good question." These were future administrators.

Following my visit to Atlantic City, I participated in the Alumni Day Activities at Yale University where I spent seven years — not all as an undergraduate. I went to the Yale Law School, too. 

At this Alumni Homecoming there was a panel of high school principals talking about the needs of secondary education. One member of the panel was the new Headmaster of Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, an excellent school for college preparatory work. Before becoming the new Headmaster, he was an Episcopal parish priest. He had been only 2-1/2 years at the job, and had come to the Headmastership with no previous background as a teacher, or even as an administrator. After 2-1/2 years a friend said to him, "George, you certainly have changed. I used to be able to get an answer out of you. Now it takes you five minutes to say yes or no." To which George replied: "Thanks for that compliment, Fred. I know now I am an educator."

Educators or administrators, you are all experts on education. This I know. Why? Because my experience on a board of education has convinced me that everyone in the U.S.A. considers himself an expert on education. In fact, Dr. John Rettaliata, President of the Illinois Institute of Technology told me recently that education is a unique business. It is the only one where people walk in off the street and tell the president how to run the enterprise.

You teachers, however, are genuine experts, and at a meeting attended by so many of you it behooves the amateur to confine his remarks to areas in which his personal background, interests, and proclivities may shed an oblique light on the main subject. I shan't invade the professional area, therefore, by attempting a direct discussion of the problems of teaching as such.

What I would like to emphasize today is the fact that most people are looking to education for leadership. People have a right to look to professional groups like yours for leadership. You can dispense with the tactics of political pressure groups. They are out-of-date for educational associations. The people don’t want politics or pressure. They want performance, professional performance, superior, grade "A" educational performance from associations like yours.

Emphasis must shift from concentration on buildings, bond issues, parking space, boilers and other physical facilities. Instead, the public wants to know what we are thinking and doing about educational content of our school programs. They are asking about our curriculum requirements, higher academic standards, history, literature and science.

They know that a leader must mould events as well as be moulded by them, and that he must raise his followers to his level of action, rather than be dragged down to theirs. And those levels must be the highest educational levels we can create.

Members of boards of education can be helpful in stimulating professional educators to concentrate mere and more on educational substance. But you, teachers, you, yourselves are the ones on whom the final burden of achievement, success or failure, rests.

Since I believe so profoundly in the importance of our teachers for the achievement of any success whatsoever in education, it is especially, disturbing to me to realize that the teacher shortage is acute and tending to become worse.

The Ford Foundation reports that 350,000 more teachers will be needed by 1965, but there are no signs that such a demand for teachers can be met by all the teacher training programs throughout the nation.

Many recommended higher salaries. I agree with them wholeheartedly. Teacher's salaries must be made attractive, competitive with other occupations and they must reflect the convictions of the community. In other words, a community gets what it pays for. If a city or school district wants top quality schools and teachers, it must be prepared to pay. It's not surprising that New Trier High School is good, there is $1200 behind every pupil in that school.

Compare that $1200 with the State Foundation Program of $200 — and you can see what I mean. Yes, higher teacher salaries are an intrinsic part of any solution for the teacher shortage. They are a "must".

In fact, I think every one in this room would be interested in two quotations from a recent report made to the President of Harvard University. The first quotation is this: "It is difficult to make comparisons with the earnings of other Americans. But it seems likely that teaching is the worst paid of the professions." The second quotation is this: "Teachers are the only occupational group whose real earnings have actually fallen since 1940. (By comparison, those of industrial workers have gone up almost 50%, of physicians 80%.) Even the notoriously underpaid ministers have improved their position."

Despite these facts no one, in my judgment, should conclude that higher teacher salaries alone will solve the teacher shortage. In fact, many fear that the teacher shortage will be met principally by lower standards for certification, increased pupil-teacher ratios, television, or in some other manner presently distasteful to the educational profession. As a layman I shall not trespass in the professional area by trying to evaluate the relative merits and demerits of such technical questions, but from my own experience and from scores of conversations with administrators and teachers throughout our state, and in many other parts of the country, I would like to suggest today that one important avenue of teacher supply has not been sufficiently explored.

Today too many persons qualified to be teachers, and too many teachers already fully qualified, are not teaching in the classrooms of America.

On the one hand, students in our colleges and universities and even in our high schools have not been inspired or motivated to seek a career in the teaching profession. Thousands of prospective teachers have been lost in this way. And on the other hand, qualified teachers have been leaving the teaching profession to get more pay in other walks of life, to find increased prestige and social status from other occupations, to get married, or for many other reasons. Whatever the cause, of which these are only a few examples, the fact remains that thousands of qualified teachers, or persons who could become qualified to teach, are not at work, teaching the thousands of American children who need their services desperately.

This is a problem which the teachers and the public must face together. We must determine how the teaching profession can meet the challenges offered by other careers.

Today I should like to suggest a seven point program to attract more and better people to the teaching profession, and to retain the outstanding people already in the teaching profession.

Point #1. I believe methods for recruiting teachers should be reexamined. The teaching profession is not attracting its fair share of our college graduates, nor is it attracting the best of our college graduates. Steps must be taken to change the pattern whereby the best students in high school and college go on to the legal, medical, or scientific careers without a moment's thought to the satisfactions of a teacher's life. We must change the old adage that "Those who can, do; and those who can't, teach." How can this be done? There are many ways.

A. One city in the middle west now sends teams of experts to visit all teacher training institutions and liberal arts colleges to give lectures and show movies extolling the virtues of the teaching profession. Literature is supplied to prospective candidates, each of whom is personally interviewed. Salary opportunities, improved working conditions, the joys of teaching as a career, the opportunities for personal development, intellectual growth, spiritual advancement all are highlighted to the prospective teacher.

American business has been seeking talent in these ways for decades, but only recently has the teaching profession come to realize that it must compete in today's labor market with all other occupations in order to attract the best of America's young people.

B. Some cities and states still require prospective teachers to take an examination at an arbitrary time and place set by the examining authorities. More progressive communities have undertaken to give teacher examinations where the prospective teacher lives. This is another example of effective recruitment practice.

C. Another effective means of guiding young students into the teaching profession is provided by the Future Teachers of America Clubs. Many of you know that these clubs have been very successful in many states. If we can interest alert young students in high school to the advantages of a teacher's life, then I think we shall attract many more people to the teaching profession, for as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.

Point #2: Teacher training institutions, teacher colleges, if you will, should be improved.

A. Many years ago 40 to 44 hours of credits in pedagogical courses were required for  teacher certificates in many states. Today in these same states these requirements in some cases have been reduced to 30 hours, while at the same time the amount of training in the liberal arts has been greatly expanded. Also, as many of you know, some teacher colleges in the past taught only courses in pedagogy. Now I think it is accurate to say that more than 3/4 of the curriculum in most institutions for teacher training is devoted to general education and the liberal arts. The result of these changes in curriculum has been to interest more students in attending teacher colleges, because it has become clear that the teacher colleges can provide a fine, general education as well as the requirements for a professional career.

B. Many universities have started advanced courses for teachers. Yale University, for example, has inaugurated a most interesting program called the Master of Arts in Teaching. Its purpose is to enrich all teachers with greater cultural perception and depth in scholarship. These enrich not only the lives of teachers and give them a greater appreciation of enduring values, but directly improve the course of instruction we are offering to our children in the classroom. In Chicago, I am happy to say, we are now considering a new program for sabbatical training of our teachers. A large foundation may soon give us between $1-million and $1,500,000 dollars to finance advanced education and overseas travel for 20 or 30 of our teachers per annum. The objective of this program would be similar to the other programs I mentioned — to develop greater cultural background and intellectual interests on the part of our teachers.

C. Stiff entrance requirements to teachers colleges should be adopted. People seldom appreciate anything they can get easily. Admission to teachers colleges should be high enough to present a real challenge to those seeking entrance. Otherwise, only those who cannot be educated elsewhere will want to attend our teacher training institutions. Once again, an example. In Chicago, we have changed the entrance requirements for Chicago Teachers College and last September, for the first time in many years, we denied entrance to 50 or 75 applicants whose previous records indicated they would not be successful in teaching careers.

Let us always remember we don't solve the problems of any profession by debasing its standards. Only by maintaining the highest standards can we hope to make teaching a genuine "profession of elegance."

Point #3: Prestige of teaching certificate should be increased.

A. Getting a teacher certificate should be one of the greatest achievements possible to a man or woman in America — comparable to the prestige of passing the Bar examination, qualifying to practice medicine, etc.

B. Some cities make a point of publishing in the local newspapers the names of all persons who have passed the teacher examinations in the community. Parties are given for the teachers, civic affairs are held in their honor, especially when teachers qualify to become principals of schools, and thus are entrusted with the education of hundreds of children. These communities take particular measures to highlight the great achievements that the new principals have made.

But I've learned that many teachers and teacher groups are opposed to "publicity". They consider it "cheap sensationalism," posturing, unprofessional, or just plain, old fashioned "bad taste." Some even profess to see the dangerous threat of "merit pay"coming in through the back door. Well, I shall have to disagree. I think teachers and teacher organizations must demonstrate pride in the achievements of their members. They must be willing to accept honors, not necessarily for themselves alone, but as a recognition given the whole profession. Doctors and lawyers certainly do. Their professions have not been irreparably injured. In fact, this is a case where "modesty is not the best policy." In fact, I believe that unwillingness to accept honors, publicity, recognition, is a false modesty. It proceeds from fear or timidity rather than humility. Teachers have an obligation not to accept a subservient position in our society. They must fight for their rights and their status. And they must do this themselves or accept society's evaluation of them.

Once again I should like to quote from the Harvard University study on the teaching profession. Listen to these words: "In every community there are teachers who love their work and are conscious of its importance. But increasingly, and tragically, they find themselves surrounded by colleagues who accept the popular image of themselves. Deprived of status and prestige, they acquiesce in the lowly role society assigns them.

"They live on the fringes of the middle class. But they cannot afford to indulge in the tastes of their peers. Neither can they revolt like the "Bohemian," since the community demands of them an utter respectability. They can only withdraw timidly to a self-contained world of their own, with its own standards, often entirely out of touch with reality. They — and their wives and children — make admirable sacrifices. But in doing so, they confirm society's impressions of a lowly group, not quite first-class and deserving of no better than hand-me-downs of our civilization."

Point #4: High standards of performance should be required within the teacher training institutions and afterward in school situations.

An example of what not to do:

In many cities there are probationary periods of 1, 2, 3 or 1 years during which a teacher is supposed to be on trial. Yet in many of these cities, no teacher for years has been dismissed because of poor teacher performance. Obviously some people would have been dropped and effective enforcement of the existing regulations in these cases would have produced a higher respect for the teaching profession.

Point #5: Teacher certification laws should be reexamined.

By making this suggestion I do not mean that we should lower the requirements for teachers. Instead, I am suggesting that many of our current requirements for teacher certificates are out of date and should be replaced in order to permit people with high intellectual attainments to join the teaching profession. 

For example, here are three horrible cases:

1. A woman who had taught for 12 years in the teacher training institutions of Iowa and Kansas, during which time she had trained more than 5,000 teachers, tried to become a regular certificated high school teacher in Illinois. This faculty member from a teacher training institution had the Ph.D. degree and, as I said, 12 years of actual teaching experience in a teacher's college, but she could not get a regular teaching certificate. Why? Because she had failed to complete the hours of practice teaching required of all teachers in Illinois.

2. A recent study made in the middle west indicates that more than 50% of the faculty members of one of the nation's outstanding universities could not qualify even to take the examinations for teacher's certificate in one of our leading industrial states. All of these men and women have the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees and are actually teaching in the universities of America. Despite their intellectual qualifications, these men and women are cut off from our common schools solely because they have not taken a few courses in methodology.

3. A young Phi Beta Kappa from Mt. Holyoke, who subsequently received the M.A. degree in history from Bryn Mawr, was refused permission to teach history in the public schools of one of our largest states because she had taken courses whose titles did not appear in the state catalogue of acceptable courses for history teachers. For example, she had taken a course in political ideas of the 19th century. This was classified as a social science course, not a history course. Therefore, she was prevented from teaching history.

4. We’ve all heard of the famous New Trier High School, supposedly one of the best schools in America, but how many of us know this: The Board of Education at New Trier High School selected a new principal about l years ago after conducting an intensive investigation of all applicants on a nationwide basis, and, as you know, they pay a very good salary. Finally, after many months of deliberation they selected a man whom they considered truly outstanding. A man who had had 12 years' previous experience as principal of one of the finest high schools in Pennsylvania. But when this new principal arrived to take up his job as Superintendent of New Trier, he found he could not qualify. The reason? He didn't have sufficient credits in education courses.

Many additional examples could be cited whereby potentially excellent teachers have been prevented from teaching in our public schools, or have been discouraged from even applying for public school positions, because of the red tape and requirements steadfastly adhered to despite the national teacher shortage.

Point #6: Promotion system among teachers should be re-evaluated.

A. In making this suggestion I am not necessarily recommending merit pay. But I am suggesting that there are many unanswered questions in this complicated field. For example, shouldn't we find better means for providing greater rewards for our best teachers, - rewards commensurate with their great contribution to society. For instance, a teacher who can instruct 10,000 students at one time over television certainly deserves more compensation that a teacher who finds it difficult to handle 25 children in a classroom setting.

B. Shouldn't we open up the upper ends of the teachers' salary schedule so that young teachers can realize from the beginning of their careers that there are opportunities for advancement in salary based upon quality of performance?

C. Another pertinent area of investigation is the teachers’ pension and retirement system, which sometimes operates to discourage the best qualified people from remaining in the teaching profession. For example, in Chicago our teachers’ pension and retirement fund guarantees a maximum pension of $3500 a year. The size of this pension is determined by the maximum salary which can be earned by a classroom teacher with a B.A. degree. Therefore, when the General Superintendent of Schools in Chicago retires his maximum pension will be $3500 a year, despite the fact that he is now earning a salary of $40,000 a year (a salary which he justly deserves and which I was happy to participate in creating for him.) All other high level teachers and administrators in our public school system are likewise restricted to a pension of $3500 a year, even though they may be making $10,000, $12,000 or $20,000. Obviously in industry they would have much greater job security in the form of pension and retirement benefits. The teaching profession, in my judgment, will never be able to attract and keep the best quality men, men who have important family obligations to fulfill, as long as the teaching profession provides them with so little in the way of security for their families.

Point#7: Dull and burdensome administrative details and paper work should be taken off the teachers’ shoulders.

I think all of us agree that this is a most desirable objective. The trick, however, is to determine how we can eliminate this paper work. Today I can only point hopefully to experiments being conducted in at least three major American cities.

1. First, one major city is attempting to put all of the paper work connected with pupils’ personal history records, attendance records, etc. onto I.B.M. cards so that teachers will be relieved, in part, of much of the paper work that now is required.

2. Another city has enlisted the voluntary support of parents to work in the schools on a rotating basis and perform for the school many of the custodial, baby sitting, and record keeping functions now forced onto the teachers t shoulders.

3. Another city is actually planning now to purchase a large electronic computer which will handle a large proportion of the paper work now being handled by teachers and principals.

If teachers, political leaders and civic leaders working together can begin to follow some or all of the seven suggestions I make today, I think we could look forward to an increase in the attractiveness of the teaching profession. I am not suggesting that this is all that needs to be done. Just as important as increased salaries, improved working conditions, improved teacher training programs, and the elimination of dull and burdensome paper work is the need for re-establishing teaching once again as a leading profession in our society. The great men of antiquity - Socrates, Plato, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, himself, and others - were known first as teacher and only later as philosopher, or religious leader.

The word "Rabbi" in Hebrew means Teacher. The B.A. degree, the M.A. degree, and the Ph.D. degree all were originally instituted in the medieval universities, not as "passports to increased income," but as certificates indicating competence as a teacher. In fact, the B.A. degree originally meant that the holder could teach certain subjects in the Liberal Arts. The Masters Degree (Magister) meant that the holder of the certificate could teach all of the Liberal Arts.

In fact, let me ask this question: - How many people in this room realize that the word "Doctor" comes from the Latin word "Docendi" meaning teacher? The Ph.D., Doctor of philosophy, therefore, was a teacher of philosophy, not a research chemist at DuPont, or General Electric.

It would be a great thing for our culture if we could somehow recapture that evaluation of the dignity, prestige, and leadership of the teacher which characterized the middle ages or ancient Greece and Macedonia. How many of us remember the famous and true story about Philip of Macedon, who wanted to insure that his young son, Alexander, would get the best educational opportunities, and, therefore, sent to Greece and requested the Greeks to send him the greatest teacher in their land. The Greeks agreed to send their greatest teacher, but said the price would be high. Philip said he would pay any price. Then the Greeks told Philip what the price would be, and that price had been set by the teacher, himself.

The price? Philip would have to rebuild from the ground up the city where the famous Greek teacher was born. Philip accepted the price and rebuilt the ancient city of Stagira which he himself had devastated in war. He paid this tremendous price for the services of one teacher, and that teacher was Aristotle.

How many Americans today would be willing to pay out in dollars and cents the money needed to rebuild the city of Hiroshima, Japan, in return for one outstanding Japanese teacher?

Practically none, I am sure. Yet somehow and in many ways we must reestablish the teaching profession for what it truly is: - one of the three highest "callings" or vocations to which one may aspire:-

Religion - which cares for man's soul

Medicine - which cares for man's body

Teaching - which cares for man's mind

One of the world's greatest philosophers, a man whom T.S. Eliot described as the greatest intellect in the world today, a man who now is approaching 80 years of age with a distinguished career behind him as a professor in Paris, Harvard, Chicago and Princeton, as Ambassador to many countries including Spain and Italy,- this man, now 80 years of age, recently closed a speech on education with these words: -

"You will, I hope, excuse me for having indulged in dreams of my own regarding the future of our school system. As to myself, I am grateful to you for hearing on the subject of education a man who feels more and more, in growing old, that he is unable to educate anybody, but badly needs to be educated himself."

This quotation from Prof. Jacques Maritain exemplifies the true humility, true scholarship, and true sensitivity of a great teacher.

I would echo Jacques Maritain's words and humbly thank all of you for, listening to a mere amateur on the subject of your profession and its future – a subject I consider of utmost importance to the future of our country.

In his book, One Man's America, Alistair Cooke, tells this story. On the 19th of May, 1780, as he describes it, in Hartford, Connecticut, the skies at noon turned from blue to gray and by midafternoon had blackened over so densely that, in that religious age, men fell on their knees and begged a final blessing before the end came. The Connecticut House of Representatives was in session. And as some men fell down in, the, darkened chamber and others clamored for an immediate adjournment, the Speaker of the House, one Colonel Davenport, came to his feet. He silenced the din with these words: "The day of judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought.”

Teachers of America, we who hope for the future peace and security of our Nation, and for wisdom and courage in our leaders, ask once again that candles be brought to illuminate our way.