Okay, maybe the title of the post is a bit inflammatory, but consider this excerpt from a recent column in the NYTimes by Charles Hill:
McGraw-Hill Research Foundation and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that one of the differences between the United States and countries with high-performing school systems was: “The teaching profession in the U.S. does not have the same high status as it once did, nor does it compare with the status teachers enjoy in the world’s best-performing economies.”
The report highlights two examples of this diminished status:
• “According to a 2005 National Education Association report, nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years teaching; they cite poor working conditions and low pay as the chief reason.”
• “High school teachers in the U.S. work longer hours (approximately 50 hours, according to the N.E.A.), and yet the U.S. devotes a far lower proportion than the average O.E.C.D. country does to teacher salaries.”
Low wages, poor working conditions, and long hours?
Are we talking about the garment industry here? We’re not exactly showering teachers with love and apples; more like disdain and tomatoes.
In Hill’s column he cites a recent poll that found that 76% of Americans believe high-achieving students should be recruited to be teachers and that 67% would like for their own child to become a teacher. Yet teachers and the education system as a whole continue to be criticized.
We rarely talk about high-performing teachers. Instead the conversation turns to mediocre and incompetent teachers who aren’t held accountable.
But here’s the thing…
It only takes one teacher to change the course of your life.
From kindergarten through college I had somewhere between 70 and 80 teachers. I probably can’t name half of them. And of the half I can remember, some I remember for not great reasons. But there are a select few I will never forget:
Mrs. Suitts, 3rd grade: She used to grab my ear, pull up, and walk me on my tiptoes out of her class. I was a bit of a class clown, but she believed in me. In 3rd grade I went from the lowest reading group to the highest. She even had me tested for the TAG (talented-and-gifted) program, to which I was admitted. Mrs. Suitts helped me realize that I had more to offer than the occasional class disruption.
Mrs. Birt, 5th grade: I wrote a story about a boy who found a pair of flying shoes. Mrs. Birt entered it into a contest in which I won honorable mention. More than that she encouraged me to write. I bumped into her at the county fair last year and she still uses some of my stories as examples in her class. There’s a moment in every writer’s story where someone steps into their life and says, “You can write!” Mrs. Birt was that person for me.
Mrs. Marshall, 11th & 12th grades: Poor Mrs. Marshall. By the time I reached her class I was on cruise control. I was all about the Cliff’s Notes and doing assignments the class period before they were due. She tried to start a summer reading program with myself and two of my classmates. We were supposed to have read “A Tale of Two Cities” by our first meeting. None of us did. Our lack of effort was disgusting and Mrs. Marshall’s efforts despite us were inspiring. I’ve since apologized to her many times and she still proofs my work to this day.
Jonathan Levy, Geology professor of Miami University: I took every class at Miami that Dr. Levy taught. One of them even required knowing calculus, which I did not. I missed every calculus question on every test and still got a B because Dr. Levy inspired me to study hard. Dr. Levy didn’t just talk about volcanoes, glaciers, caves, and plate tectonics, he showed us pictures of him exploring them. He taught me that learning begins in the classroom, but true knowledge can’t be gained from a book. When I decided to travel after college, I discussed my itinerary with Dr. Levy. Many of the places I visited on that first trip, I first saw in photos he had taken that he showed us in class.
If there is a more selfless profession than teaching others, year after year, something that you already know, I don’t know what it is.
On behalf of society, I apologize to all of the teachers out there. We don’t give you enough pay, time, or credit.
Preparing for Tomorrow
My sister-in-law, Emily Taylor, teaches kindergarten at Mississinawa Valley, my alma mater, and today, Labor Day, a day off, she’s at school in her classroom preparing for tomorrow.
Happy Labor Day teachers!
Think of three teachers who made a difference to you. Feel free to share who and why in the comments, but, more importantly, send your teachers a note of thanks.