This week marks Teacher Appreciation Week, a time for us to show our gratitude and give thanks for the teachers who brighten the lives of our young ones. Educators are one of America’s most vital assets as they help students gain knowledge and hone the skills they need to succeed in life. Indeed, we can all recall at least one teacher in our lives who helped shape us for the better. One important way we can show our appreciation for the great teachers in our lives is by advocating for educational practices that recruit and retain more quality teachers such as innovative compensation models and incorporating professional development.
National education reforms such as No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards Initiative depend on quality teachers to lead students to higher achievement of academic benchmarks. Studies find that effective teachers can produce up to an additional year and a half of learning even for the most at-risk students. Yet, America faces a teacher shortage as retention of effective educators remains low and more young people opt to take up other professions. The average student-teacher ratio is now 16 students per every teacher, up from previous years of 14 students per teacher. In areas with large minority and low-income families, student-teacher ratios can be as high as 23 to 1. Recruiting more teachers is vital to keeping class sizes small, providing individualized attention, and ensuring quality education for all students.
In addition to increasing the number of qualified teachers, America's school systems must do more to increase diversity amongst teachers. A recent report finds that a growing divide between the diversity of student populations and teachers leading classes is occurring. Recalling my recent discussion in Education Wednesday: Minority Students are the New Majority, increasing diversity and raising the number of highly-qualified teachers is important to serving the unique strengths, challenges, and interests of different student groups. The benefits of diverse teachers are two-fold: some students have the chance to intellectually and personally grow from their interaction with someone from a different culture. Others have the chance to identify with someone of a similar background.
Even one adult who cares can greatly impact a child's commitment to education and improve life outcomes. That's why it is urgent to increase the number of invested teachers.
Aundrea's Tips for Increasing the Number of Qualified and Effective Teachers
- Increase teachers' compensation: As America is still in great need of highly-qualified teachers, raising salaries may be one of the most important ways to recruit and retain better educators. Currently, the national median income for teaching is $56,000, with most states boasting salaries closer to $46,000. Some critics argue that teachers are actually overpaid. However, almost 46 percent of public school teachers call it quits within the first five years of starting in the classroom with the top two reasons being high work-related stress combined with low salary earnings. Increasing compensation for teachers is not only a matter of fiscally showing our appreciation. It is also vitally important for attacking top candidates to work as educators within our school systems.
- Encourage professional development: One trait of a great educator (and really any professional) is the drive to constantly work towards perfecting her craft. Professional development classes grant educators the opportunity to share new ideas and learn techniques from other effective teachers. Schools must build in time for teachers to improve their skills. Constantly sharpening skills allow teachers to provide better educational experiences which greatly benefits students. Incorporated professional development classes also provide opportunities for teachers to advance within their careers, adding another level of respect and satisfaction to the teaching profession.
- Reclaim teachers' time for teaching: Great teachers often do more than just teach. On top of their duties to cover curricula, we ask educators to serve as administrators, counselors, child care providers, role models, coaches, motivational speakers, and advocates. While many educators happily or innately fill these roles, often our most qualified teachers are tied up in outside tasks that can limit their time to plan and be effective in the classroom. Schools must work to build more flexible models that allow great teachers to better direct their time towards preparing students.
Highly effective teachers launch imaginations, engage inquisitive minds, and mold impressionable learners along their way to adulthood. Without the great educators in our lives, many of us would not be where we are today. As we show appreciation for the amazing teachers who fill our students with knowledge and hope, it is important to remember that all students, no matter where they live, deserve the opportunity to be led by an exceptional educator. Increasing the number of high-quality teachers who we can celebrate all through the year is vital to providing an educational experiences that will stick with kids forever.
An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.How are you showing appreciation for the teachers in your life?