This morning a few people on twitter posted this NY Times Opt-Ed article by Nicholas D. Kristof, titled “The Value of Teachers”. Articles like this help me remember why I wanted to be a teacher and how I still would like to teach. I enjoy these discussions about the “value” of teachers. We all know a great teacher is one of the most empowering and influential people in our lives outside of our family and friends. But the statistics of a valuable teacher even surprise me.
” A landmark new research paper underscores that the difference between a strong teacher and a weak teacher lasts a lifetime. Having a good fourth-grade teacher makes a student 1.25 percent more likely to go to college, the research suggests, and 1.25 percent less likely to get pregnant as a teenager. Each of the students will go on as an adult to earn, on average, $25,000 more over a lifetime — or about $700,000 in gains for an average size class — all attributable to that ace teacher back in the fourth grade.”
I watched Waiting for Superman recently and the movie talked about the same idea. A good teacher is so valuable and a bad teacher is so detrimental to our students, yet our Teachers Unions provide practically no way at all to differentiate between “bad” and “good” teachers. Both get paid the same amount of money and receive the same benefits. That doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t make sense. Michelle Rhee, the previous Chancellor of DC public schools, wanted to give good teachers the opportunity to earn up to 6-figures per year with a merit-based pay system. This plan was immediately shot-down by Teachers Unions.
In theory we all like the idea that “good” teachers be rewarded with higher pay and “bad” teachers really should quit the profession. And although we can all rattle off names of a few nightmarish/amazing teachers we’ve had in our lives, in practice it is much harder than it sounds to weed out the bad from the good.
There are over 400 comments on Kristof’s Opt-Ed piece, all of them bringing up some excellent points on the issue. But today I just wanted to share a few ideas that I’ve thought about after reading this piece.
1. I don’t like the idea of merit-based pay because like I said earlier, it is too difficult to measure the quality of a teacher. Certainly we don’t want test scores determining whether or not a teacher is deemed as “good”, but really what else could we go off of? How many students like the teacher? How decorated the classroom is? How many parents call and complain? It could maybe be an elaborate evaluation process, but eventually school politics would get in the way and good decisions would not always be made.
2. Instead of focusing on separating the “good” from the “bad” teachers, our systems should and can work on making most teachers “good”. And in my opinion, the best way to get good teachers is to make all teachers feel valued. A higher salary is not the only way to feel valued.
Ways to make a teacher feel valued:
- Allow them to attend a professional develop event of their choice each year.
- Give them smaller class sizes (no more than 25 students) so they are not overloaded.
- Give them the proper supplies and equipment they need to teach.
- Allow teachers to pursue their more exciting ideas; fund class field trips, bring in exciting public speakers.
- Provide Administrative support for the teacher when students are in trouble or parents come in ready to attack.
- Allow time for teachers to collaborate and discuss lessons and teaching with co-workers in a positive setting. (This is not the same as complaining in the Teachers Lounge at lunch.)
We always talk about how students are uninspired in our current school system; It is because our teachers are facing the same problem! They are overloaded, disrespected, under supplied, putting up with tedious, irrelevant B.S. everyday. Schools are worrying about complaining parents and standardized test scores for state funding. They are not interested in creating an innovative and engaging environment to inspire learning. When schools do focus on that I believe we will see that many of our “bad” teachers actually have a “good” teacher in them somewhere just waiting to come out and inspire our students.