“My son, the doctor!”, “My daughter is studying to be a lawyer!”, “He’s an engineer, and she’s an architect!” All highly respected careers, wouldn’t you say? Each one is enough to make a mother proud!President Obama last month noted that In South Korea, "teachers are known as 'nation builders.' Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.”
While other nations were building systems that recruited their best and their brightest to teach their children, the U.S. teaching profession has been left to market forces.
“The best and the brightest in the U.S. are lured into higher-paying professions that have more opportunities for advancement and less scrutiny in the public eye. The biggest lie about American education – that those who can’t cut it in other professions become teachers – is also our uneasiest truth: American society does not value its educators as much as other societies value theirs.”(Walter McKenzie http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/02/do_teachers_get_enough_respect.html )
So how do other countries show their regard for teachers?
1. Attitude of pride and respect for the profession
2. Competitive salaries
3. Good benefits
4. Opportunities for Professional Development DURING WORK TIME
5. Thorough new teacher training and support
6. Resources for high needs learners which include materials AND personnel
To encourage teachers to participate in professional development countries may offer incentives such as salary increases or credits for promotion. Specific campaigns or strategic policies may also focus on raising their participation.” In the Czech Republic, teachers are entitled to 12 working days in a school year for independent study. In Italy, in accordance with the freedom to alter the school timetable flexibly, some schools suspend classes for a few days to carry out intensive training initiatives. The employment contract also states that teachers are entitled to exemption from their normal duties for five days in the school year in order to attend training.
“In Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, continuous professional development is
optional, but clearly linked to career advancement and salary increases. In Luxembourg and Spain, teachers who enroll for a certain amount of training are eligible for a salary bonus. In the other four countries, credits may be acquired via participation in continuous professional development programs and are taken into account for purposes of promotion. In Cyprus, Greece and Italy, continuous professional development is a definite obligation for newly appointed teachers” (Eurydice, 2008; European Commission, 2009).
Another point of contention is that in American schools, students with special needs are piled into classes with the general population with little or no support to the teacher. It saves money! Managing 25 students is a task in itself, but add in 2 or 3 ADHD students, an autistic student, a few behavior problems and a non English speaking student and see how your curriculum progresses! American teachers spend more time dealing with behavior problems or struggling to assist high needs learners, leaving the average student to meander along on their own at times out of necessity. The average American teacher spends in excess of $1,000 per year on supplies, decorations, incentives and FOOD or CLOTHING for students. I believe that this is a conservative estimate! I know I spend twice that each year! And this doesn’t include money spent on a professional wardrobe, transportation, membership in professional organizations and in-service classes I chose to take.
“…, other countries deal with high-needs learners, vulnerable populations and struggling schools much more proactively. Interventions to help individual students start earlier and are more widespread; in some places, up to 40 or 50 percent of students receive extra help. Social needs are dealt with systematically — unlike here, where individual teachers often dig into their own pockets to make sure kids have books or coats or breakfast. Class sizes are reduced and prep time added where teachers need extra time to work with students to ensure they can succeed. And rather than simply shut down struggling schools, education officials in some places send in teams of top-flight teachers to help their colleagues in those schools.” (Michael Milgrew, United Federation of Teachers http://www.uft.org/presidents-perspective/r-e-s-p-e-c-t)In European and Asian schools it is not standardized testing that is driving curriculum and instruction. None of these systems want to base their teacher evaluations on test scores. And I don’t think any of the education ministers there could even imagine suggesting publishing a ranking of teachers based on unreliable test scores fed through an unequally unreliable statistical model.
The lesson from around the world for the US is that treating teachers as professionals is integral to educational success. It means recognizing and respecting teachers for their training, experience and professional judgment, just as you would a nurse or engineer. It means recognizing that teachers are the ones in the school system who are the experts in teaching and learning, and recognizing that centrally involving teachers in educational planning and reform are the keys to school success and student achievement. The lesson also teaches us that where reform was top-down, imposed on teachers rather than developed with them, it just has not worked.
Perhaps if we had educators, experienced in teaching at different levels, involved in decision making and policy formation, we might develop reform that would make a difference. Until teachers are given the respect, status, input and salaries they deserve as degreed professionals, we can expect American schools to continue to fall behind in the global educational picture.
We are in wicked need of change!