How do we inspire the best and the brightest to become educators?
We have to make the profession a respectable position. Right now, American teachers are scapegoats for everything wrong with our society. This is not true in other countries. How do we bring respect to the profession? This multiple step process must happen simultaneously or at least in rapid succession:
- The first step needs to be getting rid of the ridiculous evaluation system based on standardized tests and tied to teacher pay. Master teachers know that their true effectiveness cannot be measured by a test. Recently, a former student teacher of mine wrote 130 letters—one for each of her students—in response to a suicide attempt from one of her students. That kind of passion and dedication to her students cannot be measured by a test. She was the best and brightest in her high school and college, and she was taught by amazing master teachers who did not need standardized tests to prove their worthiness.
- Teacher preparation programs must only accept the best and brightest students into their programs. Right now, anyone can become a teacher. Elevating the requirements for teacher candidates will elevate the respect for the profession. The courses in these programs must also be more rigorous and involve more hands-on experiences. If becoming a teacher were more difficult, people who were drawn to the profession would make sure they were the right kind of candidates right out of high school, just like those who want to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Also, the programs that offer quick training for such an important profession must be dissolved.
- In conjunction with the improvement to teacher prep programs, teachers must get a competitive salary based on the education requirements for the profession. Teachers need to have a master’s degree and are required to continue their education through professional development courses every year. How many other professionals, requiring that kind of educational commitment, cannot afford to live a comfortable life on their income alone? It should not matter in which community a teacher works: A viable salary commensurate with the education and workload must accompany the profession. Also, in this capitalistic society, money equals respect. When the current response to our profession changes from “I guess you couldn’t make it in any other profession” to “Wow! You were bright enough and dedicated enough to become a teacher!” we will know that our profession finally has the respect it deserves.
- There must be a mentoring program for new teachers that pairs them with master teachers so that they can have a solid network to maneuver through the difficulties intrinsic within the profession. Many teachers leave the profession within the first five years because they do not have that support system. They will never become master teachers; they will never know the beauty that blossoms from the struggle. Watching students become successful adults, helping other teachers embrace the profession, growing into a master teacher—these are the rewards that accompany longevity in a profession that builds a community, improves a society, and changes the world for the better.