Every day, week and month we celebrate various groups and occasions. For example, last month was Correct Posture Month, National Artisan Gelato Month and Uranus Awareness Month.
One May recognition touched a common chord: Teacher Appreciation Week. Those in that demanding and critical profession deserve all the accolades we give them. But kind words and pats on the back are not enough. It’s time they received the full range of support they need to do an even better job.
Providing these resources should be a no-brainer because when we support teachers, we support our families and our communities. It’s pretty simple: School success rests on teacher success. This isn’t a matter of conjecture. Research has shown that teachers are the single most important school-based factor in student learning.
Now we have a report that tells us that the impact of a great teacher extends beyond the classroom.
The researchers — faculty from Harvard and Columbia — tracked the post-high school impact of excellent teachers on 2.5 million students. In describing the findings, one author said, “If an elementary school student has an excellent teacher even for a single year, it boosts their income by an average of about 2 percent per year.” His co-author said that students with excellent teachers “for even a single year, not only earned more as an adult, but also were more likely to go to college or to go to a higher ranked college, and to live in a better neighborhood. They were also less likely to become a teen parent.”
The good news is that much of the national debate on school reform is teacher-focused. But those conversations are mostly limited to evaluation, promotion and pay. Teachers also lack support in such basic areas as adequate classroom supplies, working technology, and clearly defined career ladders.
Teachers are understandably discouraged. The most recent Met Life Survey of the American Teacher tells us that there have been significant shifts in attitude over the last few years. In 2009, 59 percent of teachers were very satisfied with their job. That number has dropped to 44 percent. In 2009, 17 percent said they were likely to leave the profession. That number has climbed to 29 percent.
So what do we do? The College Board recently sponsored conversations with deans of education to get their opinions on ways to improve education. This is a smart, knowledgeable and caring group. Here are two ideas they gave about ways to ensure that the best teachers come, stay and succeed in the classroom.
One: Develop and implement a powerful loan forgiveness program that would wipe out college debt for those who remained in teaching, entered hard-to-fill disciplines or worked in schools in tough neighborhoods. This would send a clear and financially compelling signal to our young people that we want them in our teacher corps.
Two: Create a single, consistent and strong curriculum in all 2,000 teacher training programs. Right now, there is no consistency in how we train teachers. A strong common curriculum would ensure that all teachers receive the training they need. It would also allow the public to understand and scrutinize this important area.
The deans know that their suggestions are not cure-alls. But they also know that we need to make changes and make them fast to give teachers the support they need. The current situation is untenable.
Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, hit it on the nose when he said, “No group is more important to the future of this country than teachers and until we accept this, progress in many fields will be held up.”
Like Caperton, most of us admire teachers. The annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on what Americans say about public schools tells us more than 70 percent of the public has confidence in our teachers and a comparable percentage would like to have one of their children enter the profession. But teachers need more than a vote of confidence. They need all of us to beg, cajole, and demand that they get the kinds of support they need.