Where Are the Great Teachers?

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

“There is no incentive right now to be a great teacher,” Dr. Wayne Lewis said on the morning of June 5th before the Kentucky Board of Education. Dr. Lewis also mentioned the need for changes to attract new teachers.

The profession of teaching has been in need of some changes. How do we attract new teachers? That’s difficult when we have politicians lambasting us with impunity. That’s difficult when the profession is disrespected by some of the most influential people in the state. How do you entice young people to obtain a teaching certificate and maintain it while watching educators be name-called, blamed, hated, and excluded at every given opportunity?

First, how do you currently become a Kentucky educator? The task is more difficult than Dr. Lewis would have you believe with the statement “We will be foolish to assume, to make the statement, that all teachers are great.” No. We aren’t all great, but we have all spent time in a sufficiently rigorous process to become a teacher. To start, teaching requires a college education. In JCPS alone, despite no longer being required to have one starting in 2018, 85% of teachers have a masters degree. During our college years, we must complete student teaching, where we work as a teacher in a real classroom for free under a mentor teacher. Following the completion of our required college education, we take a series of tests that are specific to our content area called the PRAXIS or PRAXIS II and must achieve a specific score in each area.

After our initial hiring, we used to have a program called the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program where we again proved our efficacy as educators. This program, like the requirement for a masters degree, was removed in 2018. Despite the removal of KTIP, we still spend our first 4 years of teaching in a non-tenured status in which we can be non-renewed for any reason. After completing our coursework, passing our initial screening, and finishing our first 4 years, we are able to acquire our tenured status. These procedures are in place to ensure that effective teachers are in the classroom. In fact, research shows that teacher effectiveness actually increases with years of experience (https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/03/25/new-studies-find-that-for-teachers-experience.html).

In addition to all of this, Kentucky actually enacted legislation in 2000 to facilitate the ability of teachers to achieve National Board Certification, a program designed to encourage reflective, equitable pedagogical practices. The laws enacted surrounding National Board Certified Teachers include both a goal to have at least one NBCT in every school by 2020 as well as a stipend to incentivize the program for teachers. Teachers who complete the program also automatically receive their Rank I, resulting in a raise for their efforts. The endeavor has resulted in Kentucky being ranked 8th in the nation for total number of NBCTs. Additionally, as part of an effort to increase the presence and longevity of experienced teachers in schools identified as struggling, JCPS provided a stipend for teachers who teach at these schools and added five additional work days for teachers, adding further pay for teachers who work with some of the most in need students in the district.

Dr. Lewis seems to be building a case for providing performance-based pay. While this concept might work in the business world, the idea of applying these practices in a punitive capacity to the world of education would further demoralize teachers who are already struggling and feeling the sting of disrespect echoing from the halls of the Capitol. It seems particularly egregious to pursue this concept as JCPS’s own superintendent, Dr. Marty Pollio, presented the findings of our MAP data before the Board of Education showing that our students are growing, indicating there must be great teachers in JCPS.

How do we attract more great teachers? Respect us. Support us. We need more funding for professional development. We need to reinstate KTIP as a means to support our newest teachers. Leaders in our state need to stop reviling us and focus on building relationships so we can work together to create legislation to support education that is equitable for all of our students. The quagmire that is the lack of respect and support for public educators right now is creating a crisis that we will feel for years. We have a deficit of teachers. The ones we do hire aren’t staying. You don’t attract great teachers. You grow them. You grow them with respect and support and legislation designed to help rather than hinder. We have great teachers among us and great teachers yet to come. We need to work together to secure our future.

As for my incentive to be a great teacher? My incentive is my students.

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