A public school teacher in the United States of America is not a very attractive career. The pay is not acceptable. The training is not sufficient. The professionalism of the career is in the gutter. Schools are underfunded and understaffed. Tenure has destroyed any motivation for improvement and advancement. Leadership and most significant decisions trickle down from state or federal level representatives who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they graduated high school or college with a solid 2.8 GPA 20 years ago. Kids come to school hungry, angry, and disrespectful. Teachers are tired, stressed, and apathetic. Administration is terrified test scores are going to drop again.
Obviously all of the aforementioned problems cannot be solved immediately. Some will never be solved. Others will be “reformed” then re-reformed again. All the while, class after class of kids suffer the consequences leading to adults that are hungry, angry, disrespectful, uneducated, and broke.
So, where to start?
I say start with the teaching profession itself. We can’t expect every teacher out there to be the “I’m so passionate about teaching, $30,000 for doing what I love will do just fine” teacher. That will work for a lot and has been working for a lot for many years. What’s going to end up happening more and more though is that intelligent, passionate, innovative students and possible teacher candidates are going to find more lucrative, more attractive jobs elsewhere. This will lead to less intelligent, less passionate, and less innovative students to become teacher candidates, thus bringing more mediocrity into an already mediocre system. Pay teachers based on what they do, not just student scores, and definitely not just credentials and seniority. In short, pay teachers more.
Teacher training should mimic doctor training. In house paid residencies of a year should take the place of a five month student teaching stint. Candidates should be placed with a highly qualified, effective teacher for a full year to see how teaching really works. During this time, the candidate can take over classroom duties with a mentor to help them along the way. Candidates will receive individualized instruction and growth will be evident.
The highly qualified teacher/mentor should model next generation skills and pedagogy and expect the candidate to incorporate these into his instruction. Skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving must be accompanied by resilience, empathy, and passion. Pedagogy must include personalized, student-centric learning, mastery learning, problem/inquiry based learning, mastery grading, and standards-based instruction focusing on the what, why, and how through the lens of a growth mindset. Then, when the time comes for the candidate to have his own room, he will be ready to lead students to be successful and happy.
Finally, teachers must be treated as and act as professionals. Parents should teach their kids to respect their teachers. Administrators should respect their teachers. Teachers should respect administrators and other teachers. Community members should hold their district’s teachers in high regard. If a classroom problem occurs, ask the teacher about it. If the teacher has been well trained and is a good teacher, chances are the “problem” is nothing more than a miscommunication. If a teacher is not performing in a professional, effective manner, disciplinary action should be taken.
Teachers (and students) should be provided an attractive building and classroom to call home. If a classroom has rotting ceiling tiles, but the superintendent’s office has marble countertops, there’s a problem. Teachers are professionals just like doctors, lawyers, and special assistants to the special assistant of the interim assistant of the vice-president of the interim president. Each should be treated with appropriate respect and dignity.
Better pay, better training, and professionalism would all make teaching a more attractive career. Happier, more productive teachers = happier, more productive students. Happier, more productive students = happier, more productive adults.
Travis Marcum teaches middle grades language arts and social studies at Model Laboratory School and EDF 204: Emerging Technology in Education at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky. He graduated from EKU with a Bachelor’s degree in Middle Grades Education (English/Social Studies) and obtained a Master’s degree from the University of the Cumberlands in Teacher Leadership. He’s currently in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies EdD program at EKU. He lives in Richmond, Kentucky with his wife, Karmen and his kids, Hudson and Mila. This post originally appeared on Travis’ website, MyKillerBlog.