President's Corner

Where’s the Beef Revisited

by David E. Gee

Should the achievement of students be considered in the formative and summative evaluations of teachers?

In the 1980s, an award-winning commercial for Wendy’s featured a little old lady who, after looking at the spot of food on her plate, asked a simple question: “Where’s the beef?” For a time, the expression was a popular catchphrase when people wanted to get to the root cause of an issue.

Today as I travel around our great country, another question seems to be surfacing: “Where are the education leaders?”

When I ask members of the local media and our elected officials why they think so many education leaders are leaving the profession or why so few people are willing to become career administrators, they look at me with a blank stare. It’s a stare that reminds me of an animal that is so blinded by a car’s headlights that it is unable to move.

After they take a moment to compose themselves, they usually shrug their shoulders and shake their heads. The problem can’t be salaries, they say, because education leaders are well compensated. They talk in terms of dollars and cents and don’t consider any other factors as being significant.

When I pose the same question to education consultants, they respond that while educators’ salaries have improved, the exodus of school leaders from the profession is more likely due to a variety of external environmental factors. These factors make our jobs so difficult and demanding they are forcing many of us to abandon our once-cherished careers in school leadership. But they offer little additional insight.

So I decided to get to the meat of the problem by talking privately with those educators who are leaving or recently have left our profession. As I suspected, it’s not all about the money. Instead, these folks talk in terms of no longer having fun, of our profession being a job rather than a calling and of seeing the position — especially that of superintendent of schools — as having lost its luster.

Those who have given up on our profession are frustrated and angry. They are discouraged that despite working long hours and being extremely dedicated, they have been unable to accomplish their goals and fulfill their dreams that all children will be educated at a high level. And they are weary of the criticism thrown at them for failing to reach those goals they have worked so hard to achieve.

Each individual has a unique story to tell, yet each conveys the same sentiment: a lost passion and enthusiasm for the position that I still care so deeply about. I am saddened every time I listen to their stories for I can tell this is not the ending they had hoped for. They have lost something they don’t believe they can regain.

I had the opportunity recently to be in Nashville, Tenn., the country music capital and the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Now I am not a great lover of country music, but I did enjoy my visit quite a bit. One of the songs I heard over and over was “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw. The song carries a powerful message that is pertinent to this discussion: It is never too late to have fun in life and to experience all the things you have been missing. When faced with adversity, rather than bemoaning the hand we have been dealt, we must embrace life and consider every day as a gift.

Although at my age I question the sanity of, as the song says, going sky diving, climbing a rocky mountain and staying on a bull named Fu Manchu, I do hope when you survey the plate in front of you, you don’t simply ask “Where’s the beef?” Instead, go out and reaffirm or rekindle the passion you have for public education. Laugh a lot, play every once in awhile and truly enjoy the meaningful work that we do.