When It Comes to Teaching, We Need the Few and the Proud

May 7, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by Patrick Riccards

In West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, teachers went on strike to demand better pay and health benefits, seeking to make up for the economic losses that have hit the profession since the economic downturn a decade ago. Arizona and Colorado are now following suit. In states like New Jersey, legislatures are debating how to find the money to fund underfunded educator pensions and meet promises to retirees. As The New York Times recently highlighted, teachers in classrooms across the country are still grappling with outdated textbooks, undersupplied schools and a general absence of materials necessary for effective instruction today. These days, no one blinks an eye when teachers organize GoFundMe and Donors Choose campaigns to buy books, paper and other classroom supplies. In the face of all this, [pullquote position="right"]it’s less than surprising that the education news is littered with stories of teacher shortages[/pullquote], challenges in recruiting strong individuals into the profession and even greater challenges in keeping effective teachers in our schools, particularly in the classrooms that need them the most. These recent events are all the culmination of what some have seen as a decade-long war against the teaching profession—a war where summative metrics are deemed far more important than what is taught and how what is learned can be put to use by today’s students, where technology is seen by many as a substitute for a good teacher, and where simply treading water in the classroom is seen as a victory. In generations past, when the United States has gone into war, we have often looked to the U.S. Marine Corps to lead the way. The Corps has long recruited elite soldiers by declaring its search for “the few, the proud.” In doing so, the Corps has made clear that not everyone is cut out to be a Marine. Only the best of the best can succeed. And those individuals will receive the very best when it comes to training, support and supplies. Perhaps it is time to issue a similar call for the teaching profession. It wasn’t too long ago that many believed anyone could become a teacher—so much so that less than a decade ago, the education reform community used to complain about the bottom quartile of college students going into education. While that statistic was never verified, it played into a common belief that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. But reality differs from belief. [pullquote]There are few jobs as challenging and as difficult as being a classroom teacher today.[/pullquote] Educators wear far too many hats—instructor, counselor, nurse, surrogate parent, mediator, psychometrician, community organizer and cheerleader, to name but a few. They do so for relatively low pay, receding benefits and declining public respect. Yet each day, they are standing in front of their classes teaching, even if they lack novel sets, even if their technology is broken or stolen, even if their class sizes grow and their students come to school hungry.

Appreciating Teachers Takes More Than A Starbucks Gift Card

As we come upon another Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s acknowledge that a “World’s Greatest Teacher” mug or a $10 gift card to Starbucks is no longer enough to show our true appreciation for educators and the heroic work they undertake each and every day. Instead, it is time to reaffirm our commitment to the education profession and to do all that is necessary to ensure the success of each and every teacher. It means acknowledging that succeeding as a teacher today requires being an excellent instructor, knowledgeable in both content and pedagogy, dedicated to the kids in the classroom. It means embracing teacher preparation efforts that provide the clinical experiences and mastery of teacher education competencies that help novice teachers succeed from day one. It means recognizing the importance of mentoring, executive coaching and meaningful professional development for all educators, not just those early in their careers. It means empowering educators with the skills and knowledge to tailor their instruction based on both the needs of the students in the classroom and the availability of instructional resources in the school. And it means doing everything in our policy, political and community arenas to ensure that we are recruiting “the few, the proud” into the profession, and that we are supporting them to keep them in “the hardest job you’ll ever love” for a career, not merely as a rest stop. Teaching is a challenging, complex and often frustrating career that many are simply ill-suited to succeed in. That makes it all the more important that when we find effective educators—particularly those looking to teach in our highest-need schools—we do everything necessary to help keep them there. Such efforts begin with the recruitment of individuals with the attributes and aptitudes to succeed in the classroom, and continues on through retirement after they have impacted countless lives along the way.

Patrick Riccards

Patrick Riccards is the executive director of Best in the World Teachers. Patrick previously served as chief communications and strategy officer for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and chief of staff to the National Reading Panel, as well as director of the federal Partnership for Reading Collaborative and the executive director of the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative. Patrick is the author of Why Kids Can’t Read: Continuing to Challenge the Status Quo in Education, as well as the award-winning book, Dadprovement , and the Eduflack blog .    

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