I recently read a New York Times article that outlined strategies for improving schools. In it, Sir Michael Barber, a former British senior education adviser, noted that the world's top school systems either highly compensate or highly respect their teachers. They also select their teachers from the top third of college graduates.
In other words, the schools do not "fast track" their top-performing students into higher-paying, more prestigious careers. They make teaching the higher-paying, more prestigious career. What an ingenious idea!
This article caused me to reflect on a day when I was in the 11th grade. My American history teacher asked the class how many of us wanted to be teachers. Only two hands went up. Neither of them was mine. He then asked each of the remaining 23 of us why we did not want to teach. I don't remember most of the other responses. But my answer was, "They don't make enough money!"
Well, as life would have it, I became a teacher, an assistant principal and a reading supervisor. Now retired from the public school system, I am part of a University at Buffalo program educating graduate students to become teachers. I find myself encouraging young people and career-changers who have the desire to teach to do so. Who knew I would get so involved in a profession that didn't pay "enough" and often felt like a thankless job to boot?
Being a teacher is not really as much about how much teachers make as it is about what teachers make. The significance I feel when I meet former students who tell me that I have had a positive impact on their lives is indescribable.
Imagine being Mrs. Duncan, Oprah's fourth-grade teacher, or Mrs. Pappas, the first-grade teacher who told Tavis Smiley that he could do anything he wanted to do. Imagine a student wanting to be a teacher because one inspired him or her to want to pass along the legacy of caring instruction.
Teachers often make people who they are. Ask any successful person if he has a favorite teacher who inspired him, and more likely than not, he will tell you who the teacher was, and how he was influenced by him or her. There may even be more than one.
There used to be a popular saying that "those who can, do; those who can't, teach." But who teaches those who succeed in prestigious, high-paying careers? Why, teachers.
So when a well-established attorney recently told me that she and her attorney friends wished they had become teachers so they could have summers off, I was reminded of how simple others think teaching is.
Effective teaching only looks easy when a great deal of work has gone into it. Teachers often spend their "summers off" working, reading, planning and thinking about what they can do to make learning more meaningful for their students. School is never "out" for most teachers.
When our best and brightest want to teach, they should be encouraged to pursue their dreams. If they endure the rigors of teacher education, and fulfill the graduate and continuing education requirements necessary for certification, who would be better qualified to do the hard work it takes to be teachers?
Teaching, like parenting, is one of the hardest jobs they will ever love. In my opinion, teachers still do not make enough money or get enough respect, yet they still make a difference.