Op-Ed: Teachers Aren’t Widgets That Can Just Be Replaced
May 7 marks the annual celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Day in the United States. Approximately 3.5 million teachers will be applauded by their communities for the hard work they do and the sacrifices they make each and every day. Staff lounges will be stocked with sweets, treats, and lunch goods. Tokens will be shared, cards written, and banners hung. Teachers will be thanked for the countless hours they labor in classrooms, planning, grading, and doing whatever it takes to make sure that each and every one of their students has what they need in order to succeed.
Sadly, we teachers face seemingly insurmountable odds in helping our students succeed, and much of the struggle does not come from outside influences; it comes from the system that teachers operate within.
If May 7 marks the sixth time you will have celebrated Teacher Appreciation Day, then you’ve fared better than 50 percent of the teachers who started the same year you did. More than likely, the job you were trained for is not the one you entered. And most likely of all, you haven’t received the type of meaningful, targeted professional development that you know you need in order to grow and succeed as a professional.
May 7, today, and every day, teachers should be celebrated, not for what they do, but for the challenges they face on a daily basis.
To help change this, 5,700 teachers from across the country have raised their voices to demand better of the teaching profession. The U.S. Department of Education recently released the framework “A Blueprint for RESPECT: Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching” meant to address the challenges the teaching profession faces.
To create the framework, these thousands of teachers pulled together their collective recommendations on how to transform the profession while elevating it to the level of respect usually reserved for law, medicine, and many other occupation.
RESPECT delivers seven actionable and critical components that, while impressive and exciting in isolation, have to exist together. They are interdependent and are not in any ranked order.
Seven Critical Components of the RESPECT Framework
- A Culture of Shared Responsibility and Leadership
- Top Talent, Prepared for Success
- Continuous Growth and Professional Development
- Effective Teachers and Principals
- A Professional Career Continuum With Competitive Compensation
- Conditions for Successful Teaching and Learning
- Engaged Communities.
RESPECT details how teachers want a culture of shared responsibility and leadership. Rather than being seen as replaceable widgets, teachers themselves recognize the impact they can make when treated as trusted professionals. Teachers want the best for their students and should be allowed to make decisions they see as being in the interest of students.
As the gatekeepers of our profession, the Department of Education's framework also calls for a higher set of standards for teacher preparation. It demands that those who enter teaching have met a higher bar for entry.
Once these talented professionals are granted entry into the profession, there must be more of a focus on continuous growth and professional development driven by meaningful and fair evaluation systems that accurately reflect our performance in the classroom.
Our job is to nurture student growth, and the way we are evaluated should focus on this. Professional development should be a derivation of the information gained from these evaluations in an effort to help us grow and thereby help our students achieve.
Teachers should know how they are doing and be able to take decisive actions in order to improve their performance. If evaluation systems are well-designed and well-implemented, then effectiveness will begin to emerge.
Study after study shows that the teacher is the single-most important school-based factor in the achievement of students. If they are effective, and if they are led by an effective principal, then student growth will increase at an incredible rate.
Some teachers, including those who are part of the 50 percent who leave in their first five years, enter teaching hoping to make a living wage. Unfortunately, the pay scales and steps that currently dictate our salaries don’t factor in the performance of a teacher. Imagine if the same were true in other professions.
Some teachers want to stay in the classroom for their entire career. Some want to take on leadership roles within their school or district while still teaching. And, some want to take on instructional coaching roles where they can scale their impact. This is why RESPECT calls for the creation of career ladders with competitive compensation for educators.
Communities should embrace their schools and demand that they be high-performing and stocked with effective educators.
And yes, while much of the work to complete the transformation seems focused on the professional teachers, an even greater part of the work has to do with the cultures where they work and the communities that surround schools.
Dysfunctional school and district cultures do not attract effective educators and they certainly do not incentivize them to hang around. Communities should embrace their schools and demand that they be high-performing and stocked with effective educators. Teachers want communities to be involved in their schools.
So, as National Teacher Appreciation Day approaches, rather than cookies, donuts, cards, or balloons, we as an American public could show our appreciation for the millions in our country who teach by asking the simple questions: Why is RESPECT not the reality? And, what can policy makers, voters, business leaders, teachers, principals, superintendents, and others do to make this a reality?
Teachers developed this, teachers want this, and teachers know this is the way to transform the profession.