It wasn’t until seventh grade, when the public elementary schools around the district combined into one giant middle school building, and my mother had less of a say regarding which class I was placed in, that I experienced what it was like to have a teacher that taught me virtually nothing. In fact, that year, there were a few.
My stories of these teachers, which I relayed to my mother, compelled her to pull me out of public school the next year and put me back into a private school, where she could rest assured I’d get top quality education—in every classroom in which I sat.
When I went back to public school in high school, the teachers I had were exceptional. But once again, I was placed on the highest academic track offered. Since I was going to a school located in a wealthy suburban area, those teachers were unsurprisingly top notch.
But think about how many teachers you had that taught you next to nothing, or had such low standards for you that school seemed to be a joke.
If this country is to maintain a public education system—which I fervently oppose but will go along with for now—the national standard for teachers cannot remain where it is. More experienced teachers are far more likely “to concentrate in schools in which working conditions are easier” (Tooley). This also means that within a single school, the more experienced teachers will teach those students on higher academic tracks, ensuring that lower-academically tracked students will suffer the consequences of poorer quality teachers. I witnessed this in my own grade-A public school.
There should not be such a huge disparity between the best and the worst teachers, but that there is isn’t surprising considering the facts. For one, becoming a teacher is not considered by American society to be a “prestigious” profession, like becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer is. This seems counterintuitive considering that teachers are the ones that make people eligible for these professions.
OECD countries that scored the highest on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests—such as China, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada—have much more focused, intentional and systematic methods of recruiting excellent students to become teachers.
Such a strategy is utterly lacking in the United States on a national or state level.
Perhaps even more importantly, the standard that students of education must meet to become teachers is abysmally low. The following statistics come from a research brief by Breakthrough Collaborative:
· Only 23% of U.S. teachers come from the top third of the academic pool.
· Only 7% of public school teachers graduated from selective colleges.
· Only 14% of education majors had SAT or ACT scores in the top quartile, as compared to 26% of social sciences majors and 37% of math/science majors.
While I fully agree that teachers are not paid half as much as they should be for all the work they must put in to be good and effective educators, becoming a teacher is a privilege. Becoming a teacher means having a first and direct impact on the next generation—on the future of this country and the world. Becoming a teacher means being endowed with the opportunity to change the trajectory of a person’s life.
Like being a brain surgeon, teaching is not a profession to take lightly. There are brilliant teachers that work in the most difficult public schools, teaching kids with the highest need. They aren’t compensated monetarily—and this is a huge flaw in the system—but they see their students’ success as compensation enough to continue putting in the effort to be great. These are the teachers that understand what it means to be a teacher and where the reward in this profession lies.
If education has been deemed so important as to provide it freely for all children ages five to 18 and, furthermore, to mandate it, how is it possible that we do not take the recruitment, education and professional development of future teachers more seriously?
Poor quality teachers are one of the greatest injustices afforded to students, because a great teacher can compensate for a lack of material resources. As we think about the reformation of education, we must remember that our teachers are the foundational first step in the creation of a vibrant and thriving economy, society and world.
The Alchemy of Effectiveness: The Path from High Potential Candidates to Highly Effective Teachers. Research Brief, Breakthrough Collaborative, Breakthrough Collaborative, 2011.
Tooley, James, Kenneth R. Howe, and Harry Brighouse. Educational Equality. Edited by Graham Haydon. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010.