Once again, I've decided to take a little detour from the normal personal finance road and discuss an issue close to my heart, education. I've already discussed how to change the scheduling for our schools to help encourage learning and generally improve our school system, now it's time to discuss the most important people to making our schools a success: the teachers.
Teachers are on the front line of the educational system; improving the school system requires that we re-examine the current position of teachers in school, and in society. We can make all the changes to the curriculum we want, but if we don't consider the people who share the information and actually teach the children, there won't be much change overall.
Don't worry, teachers, I'm not trying to make your jobs harder (goodness knows, I've worked in various teaching positions often enough to have plenty of respect for teachers and the sort of things they need to do a daily basis); but let's face it, there's plenty about teaching that could be improved. There are ways we can take a new approach to the role of teachers in our schools, by giving them:
1. More Money – Let's not beat around the bush: if we want to attract the best and brightest to teaching positions, we need to pay them salaries that can compete with other highly educated positions. (It's one reason that when I started to cover ways of improving our schools, my first topic to address was changing how we fund our schools.) If most people have the choice of making $100,000 a year with a business degree or $50,000 a year with a teaching degree, it looks like an easy choice to go for the business degree (or any other higher income job degree). Now, I don't think it'll be possible to make teaching into a multi-million dollar a year profession (although, if you want to see the best and brightest people fight nearly to the death over teaching positions, that is one way to do it), but a higher income will help to attract the best people (and reward those who stick with the profession and improve their skills).
2. More Punishment (of the (Bad) Students; Less for the Teachers) – One of the more bemoaned facts of modern American education is how rowdy kids and pushy parents have managed to take over the classroom. Fears of being disciplined or potentially fired for striking, or even scolding, a child are not unheard of, and who could function with such possible threats hanging over their head? I'm not saying we should bring back corporal punishment (although, I've met more than a few children who would benefit from a good paddlin'), but having punishments that would actually cause the children to have some regrets and perhaps avoid naughty behavior in the first place would be wonderful. At the very least, increasing the teachers' power to remove the students from the classroom (and in the case of particularly disruptive students, from the school entirely) would definitely make it easier for the diligent students to learn.
3. More Control: I understand that there is information that needs to be taught to the students, but there should be some flexibility in how that information is passed from teacher to student. There are plenty of techniques that a skillful teacher might use to pass along information to their students, and giving those teachers a freer reign to try new things will likely give us entirely new perspectives on the most effective teaching methods at various levels. Now, of course, we can't just let teachers run wild, but if a teacher has an idea that might work, why not give them a chance to try it? All that needs to happen after that is some testing to verify that the needed information has been passed along, which means…
4. More Testing: Yes, yes, I know that one of the biggest complaints leveled against programs like ‘No Child Left Behind‘ is that all the testing leads to the teachers ‘teaching to the test' (that, and that taking away funding from schools that don't meet the standards is a backwards way to try to improve them). And I don't doubt that it's true. Here's the thing, though: there SHOULD be some standards that students are able to meet to progress in school. Don't get me wrong, there needs to be more flexibility and understanding in how the tests are administered; for reasons that range from psychological issues to their family life, not every student is going to be successful, and having that as the standard, while admirable, is just not realistic. But if a class (or a series of classes with the same teacher) as a whole is producing significantly lower results on a regular basis compared to their peers, it makes sense that the teacher is a likely cause, should be treated accordingly, and face some sort of discipline. For the teaching profession at large, though, there needs to be:
5. More Respect: This is perhaps the most important thing, and the only one that can't really be legislated. Unfortunately, in American society, teachers tend to be looked down upon; from folk wisdom that denigrates the teaching profession (such as the old chestnut ‘Those who can't do, teach') to frequent portrayals in the media as foolish, ineffective, perverted, or some combination of all three, there's an abundance of negative press about teachers. (Being made the bad guys in many states' debates about unions didn't help matters, either.) If we want the best, brightest, and most effective teachers joining the profession (or sticking with it, for all those teachers who are already among the best, brightest, and most effective professionals on the planet), we need to do everything we can to improve how teachers are viewed.