It’s an election year, and many of us have a big question on our minds: “Whom do we want in front of our country?” While work in the White House is clearly imperative, we might consider asking ourselves something that’s probably just as important: “Whom do we want in front of our kids?”
If you care about your own children, grandchildren or neighborhood children, read on. If you don’t know or care about any children — many Colorado voters fall into this group, it seems, based on the state’s rank in education funding — try thinking about your future doctor or airplane pilot or politician, and read on.
According to some new and compelling studies (just Google it), exceptional teachers make a huge difference in students’ abilities to succeed later in life. Hang on. Do we really need a study to prove that teachers make a difference? Apparently so, and the evidence that people who have had exceptional teachers make more money as adults might just be enough to turn some heads.
Who made a difference for you?
When I was in first grade at Wilmot Elementary, Mrs. Jeffers was — and is — a key to my success. She differentiated the heck out of our little classroom.
We had fun and we learned. Mrs. Jeffers’ little car was always parked at school late into the evening, and her time and effort paid off with big results.
Most of my teacher colleagues are hard-working, smart, innovative and caring. They entered the field to make a difference, and they do. Current budget conditions in Jeffco and Colorado, however, are creating challenges for teachers who view their job as a legitimate profession, something that should constitute a career.
Here’s an inside look at the system that generated a pay cut for Jeffco teachers last year and could, very likely, have them making even less three, four or five years down the road. Some teachers are taking second jobs to make ends meet, decreasing time and energy available for all of the lesson planning, assessment and collaboration (which is most of it) that happens outside of school hours. Some teachers are relocating to other districts and states. A few, unfortunately, have been so disempowered that they “work the contract.” While most of us believe this option, which involves working only during contracted hours, is inexcusable, I can’t deny that the idea has crossed my mind. Some teachers, particularly young ones who have not yet attained a salary needed to raise their own kids, are considering leaving the profession. Many members of the last group are innovators who hold the keys to the 21st-century tools our kids need, and some of them have already left.
Simply put, if we stay on this path, many of our best teachers will leave the profession. Standards will go down. Young, innovative, inspired teachers will not stay in the field long enough to become the next Mrs. Jefferses.
And that’s a bummer.
If you want the person in front of your kids to be the best of the best, do something. Here are a few ideas.
• Vote for education funding. Plain and simple. Don’t think huge classes detract from the learning environment? Go sit in one. Think all exceptional teachers are going to stick around if the salary doesn’t allow us to support a family? Test us. Want to save the money now? Face the consequences later on.
• View teaching as a legitimate profession. By recognizing that teaching is a challenging, multifaceted, and legitimate profession, you just might slow down policymakers who promote cookie-cutter, “teacher-proof” curricula and endless standardized testing. If you’re among those who believe “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” come on in and spend a day with us.
• Push for teacher assessment and accountability. Professionals in most fields are assessed on performance all the time; the same should be true for teachers. Years of experience or time in the district should not give anyone a free pass, and archaic tenure systems should be tossed out.
• When examining teacher assessment and accountability, don’t weight standardized test scores. Anyone who’s ever taught knows that it’s incredibly dynamic. Teacher assessments should reflect this. With all due respect to students (and those around here really are the best), would you like your professional performance evaluation to hang on the whim of a 16-year-old filling in bubbles on his umpteenth standardized test of the year? How about a 10-year-old? A 6-year-old? More importantly, in a world in which both legitimate and poor information sources are readily at our fingertips, do you want your child’s education to emphasize test-oriented memorization or real-life skills in critical thinking, creativity and source evaluation? Let a supervisor who knows my work well evaluate me, just like folks in almost every other field. Once dynamic evaluations have been implemented, push for promotion, retention, and salary increases for teachers who excel.
• Talk it up. Got ideas? Want to continue the conversation? Do it! Take the time to vote, blog, share, call, Tweet, etc. Even — especially — if you disagree, respond to this letter and get a conversation going at the local level.
• If you think someone’s a good teacher, let him or her know it! A nice e-mail (do it now, while you’re thinking about it) might just be enough to keep your child’s Mrs. Jeffers hanging on a bit longer.
Travis Macy is a teacher and instructional coach at Evergreen High School. The views expressed above are his own.