I cannot claim to be an expert on educational reform yet the following multi-piece article focuses on my view of our education system, its problems, and possible solutions. I approach this topic not with the educational expertise of an educator nor the legislative know-how of a lawmaker but rather as a student who cares for the future of his education as well as the education system as a whole. As such, I will focus on an issue that is often far removed from most legislators and politicians yet very much accessible to students like us- teacher motivation.
Former president John F. Kennedy once said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” Teachers inherit this innate responsibility as the caretakers of the nation’s future and ultimately the future of human progress. They form the essential bedrock of our society, the progenitors of a future that will only be marked by increased complexities, the stimulators of intellectual curiosity and yet we continue to pay them the lowest salaries of any profession. Many cite the shorter work weeks of many of the teachers and their summer of relaxation as rationale for lower salaries but almost all in the profession work far beyond the regular school day preparing various labs, grading papers and devising lesson plans all the while continuing to offer academic support services such as tutoring and future planning. Despite taking on all these roles and many more, these teachers receive virtually no respect from society, little to no compensation, and low salaries! What incentive is there to continue to enter the profession?
A recent law passed by the North Carolina legislature even eliminated the automatic pay increases allotted to teachers who pursue higher degrees of education and further limited teacher salaries. Why is it that in every field employees are rewarded in trying to improve their skills in their arena of expertise except for education? What incentive does a teacher have to try to learn more about his/her subject? What incentive does the teacher have to try to improve upon his/her class structure and build upon former evaluations?
The essential argument that I am trying to put forth here rests on the grounds that teachers, with such meager pay have no real incentive to really cater to the needs of their students. In every profession, though passion does play some role in stimulating hard work, reward and money prove to be the true incentive. Yet should we just mindlessly double or triple teacher salaries? No. There needs to be a system of accountability and checks to ensure that we are reaping the rewards we seek.
We need to bring prestige and excitement back into a field that has for so long been the target of budget cuts and political maneuverings. How can this be accomplished though when considering the conflicting needs of accountability and job stability & motivation? The answer begins with drastically raising teacher pay so that it is on par with much of the nation’s other high paying jobs. The ability to advance and gain more pay with experience must remain a cornerstone of this new policy. This will not only help attract the nation’s top students into the education field but will also help create a market for well-qualified, creative, and enthusiastic teachers.
In addition to a policy of increased teacher pay we must continually evaluate teachers and their class performance. We must measure student growth not just relative to other students in the district and nation but rather also in comparison to the student at the beginning of the school year. Should the teacher be unable to motivate significant growth in the student consistently, his/her performance must be re-evaluated just as in any other profession. We must introduce rigorous methods of teacher evaluation that ultimately retain only the best teachers and motivate others to continue to reach a higher level.
Bringing back prestige into the teaching field will yield no less than a social transformation and of course cannot be done overnight. It must be done by implementing the very standards that define prestige- rigorous training, continual assessment and refinement, and high rewards. In achieving such a feat, we benefit not only the future of the US but also ultimately the world. If nothing else, policy makers must stop the continual demoralization of teachers lest they anticipate and want an economic catastrophe as teachers leave the profession. Continual pay reductions and argumentation over education policies as a means of expressing ideological differences between the nation’s two parties must stop if we want to remain a global superpower in both strength and intellect.
by Aditya Garg