“Our faltering education system may be the most important long-term threat to America’s economy and national well-being, so it’s frustrating that the presidential campaign is mostly ignoring the issue. Candidates are bloviating about all kinds of imaginary or exaggerated threats, while ignoring the most crucial one.”
This is one of several quotes that resonated with me in Kristof’s latest Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes. As a high school teacher working with Teach for America, my sole job for the past 1.5 years has been to hold my students to a high expectations, create a warm, welcoming classroom environment in which they can learn, and educate them to a degree above the pitiful level they are held to.
My students are all poor, some homeless, and are accustomed to the drug violence, rampant illiteracy, and teen pregnancy that plagues “their side of town.” Because of that, most people write them off as un-helpable, or worse, hold them to lower standards because “that’s all they can get to.”
Kristof makes an interesting and poignant argument that, in my experience, has shown to be true: even in the poorest of schools, better quality teachers have a stronger impact on their students.
It seems obvious, but how do we get a better quality teacher? How do we ensure that our students are not being educated by someone who can’t even spell the words “trial” and “manager” properly? We pay them more.
Teacher, contrary to popular belief, are more than just baby-sitters who happen to impart students with a passing bit of knowledge. Teachers are meant to equip the next generation with the knowledge and skills necessary to either tackle the workplace, or move on to college. To do that, they need to themselves be highly educated (going to college does necessarily immediately make you highly educated, I’m sorry to say), and need to be held to a high standard.
The solution? Part of it is to pay teacher more. If you pay teachers more, you will get more individuals that are highly qualified and highly educated looking into the field. If you pay teachers more, more people will be likely to respect the job instead of seeing the profession as glorified baby-sitting. Moreover, if you pay teacher more, you can expect more: you expect excellence in their classroom, in their planning, and in their execution. People say that teaching is a noble profession, and indeed it is, however nobility, sadly, does not pay the bills. If you want better teachers, and a better future for your students, start paying them more.
It is scary to me that education is not more at the forefront of our national discussion. The United States has fallen in the last half century from the leader in education. Many of our students, mostly the poor, are getting cheated out of a future because they are not learning how to read properly, write properly, do basic math, or think critically. Education is the foundation of a strong nation, and we must focus our attention on our disintegrating public education system soon, or we will feel the devastating effects of our disregard in the worst way.