“How many of you can recall one teacher who made a positive difference in your education and, perhaps, in the person you have become? Almost every hand in the room would go up. I would then ask, how many of you can remember two teachers who made a positive difference in your life? About half the hands would go up. I would then ask, how many of you can recall three such teacher? About 10 percent of the hands go up.”
Don Nielsen, program chair to the American Center for Transforming Education of Discovery Institute and author of Every School, poses the questions above in many of his speeches on education. The response should make us question why, as a society, are we not placing more importance on the teaching profession? Nielsen argues, “it would seem reasonable to expect a country to treat teaching as a high-status profession. Yet, here in America, we do anything but. We continue to ‘treat teaching—the profession that makes all other professions possible—as a second-rate occupation.”
This is part of the conversation at a panel at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, hosted by the think tank, FutureEd. As reported in Edweek, author Madeline Will states, “experts in U.S. teaching policy—including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at the Department of Education—gathered to discuss the survey results, [a massive survey coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)] and what they mean for the future of the profession.”
What came out of the survey was that teachers like their jobs, but they “feel like society doesn’t value the profession.” As Nielsen describes the condition, “We have a national situation in which the most important profession in our society is experiencing high turnover, and is losing its best people the fastest. Moreover, the vast majority of our best and brightest people don’t even consider entering the profession of teaching.”
So how do we improve the quality of our teaching corps? By addressing three core issues: selection and preparation, placement and working conditions, and compensation, which we have previously written on. Addressing these concerns would make teaching attractive. Andreas Schleichler, the director for education and skills at OECD, comments further on teacher interests: “teachers want professional autonomy and opportunities to collaborate with their peers…for example, teachers in Japan work more hours than teachers in the U.S., but spend less time actually teaching. Instead, they’re working with their colleagues and spending time with students outside the classroom.” Nielsen agrees: “we should think about hiring teachers under different annual contracts. For example, teachers could choose to work for nine months, ten months or eleven months. Those teaching the ten-or eleven-month contracts would make substantially more money…Those teachers could work with students who need more learning time before moving to the next level, or as mentors for new teachers before the start of the new school year.”
The bottom line is there is a large agreement for better policies to give the teaching profession more credibility. Nielsen states that doing so would “create a good chance of keeping kids in school through graduation, ready to secure good jobs or more education. This would reduce the costs we now spend on the juvenile justice system and on the social services we provided by the federal and state government.…Further, better-educated students would yield increased tax revenues, as these students graduate and become productive, tax-paying citizens. Finally, students who remain in school increase the revenue to the school and district that would have been lost if the students dropped out.”
Teaching is the most vital profession in society. It is paramount we invest our time and resources into the occupation.