The greatest indicator of academic success is household income, which influences other key factors, such as peer group and environment. However, we have little control over these elements of success.
So we focus on things we do control. We implement new standards, we embed new curriculum, and we invest in new technology. We spend time and money on new initiatives with silly acronyms. Yet, of the factors we control, we disregard the single most important – the quality of the classroom teacher. We seem to think putting teachers last will somehow put students first. It’s not working.
We need a fundamental shift in the way American society thinks about teachers. Finnish schools are heralded as a world model for education. Finland has a lot going for it. Yes, comparing Finland’s schools to American schools is comparing apples and pears, but they are doing something that most agree can work in the U.S. – they invest in teachers.
I have a plan to revolutionize the teaching profession and public education in America. Why should you listen to me? I am a teacher. We need to start listening to teachers. If I have questions about the healthcare profession, I seek the advice of doctors and nurses. If I have a tax question, I seek a certified public accountant. You get the point. When it comes to public education, there isn’t a group who knows more, or what’s best, than teachers.
For a lack of a better name, I call it the 5-, 10-, 20-plan, which references the years in which we measure progress. This plan involves investing in teachers, and moving forward, recruiting the best and brightest.
In the first 5 years, we identify and invest in our current best and brightest. We put in place initiatives that keep these teachers not only in public education, but keep them in the classroom. We identify why teachers leave, and we actually do something to correct the issues.
Some type of actions can be increasing pay for these teachers, offering incentives such as child care, actually paying off their student-loan debt, and more. We pay them to attend training, and we pay them to work year round, using the time when school is out to seek professional development, to plan and collaborate. Notice, I said we pay them for these efforts.
During this initial 5 years, we seek additional revenue. This revenue will be utilized not only to keep our best teachers, but to recruit the best and brightest. I know being among the brightest in your class doesn’t make you a great teacher, but it will help, and offering incentives will increase the applicant pool, which will also help.
Around the fifth year, we utilize the new revenue to offer free tuition to education programs, which will need to be revamped themselves. We keep the promise to repay all student loans upon becoming an effective teacher. We increase not just the starting pay of teachers, we increase the pay of experienced and effective teachers. We let teachers keep their pensions. These, among other incentives, will also help diversify the teaching profession, which is greatly needed.
Between years 10 and 20, we continue our efforts, learn what’s working, scrap what’s not, and allow these teachers to lead the next generation of teachers. We rely on the expertise and experience of teachers to drive education policy.
This may be an oversimplified explanation of what we can do, but the point is, I believe in human capital. Most truly great schools have charismatic leaders and great teachers. We know attacking teachers and lowering the bar doesn’t create great schools or lead to student success. We know some forces we are fighting don’t want to see public schools excel, which is why they shackle public educators.
As teachers, parents, community members, and a larger American society, must shift our perception of teachers and begin viewing them as essential aspects of a productive and successful society.
Mostly, we have to decide what we truly value and whether we truly care about children, democracy, and the well-being of our neighbors. If we do, then it’s time to put our time, effort, and money toward what matters most in public education – quality teachers and students.