The General Manager of Chinese restaurant in the mall food court makes more money than I do. I have been teaching for over 9 years and consider myself an experienced and effective teacher, and was shocked when I saw a hiring sign posted at the mall, and the starting salary was more than my 6 years of college education and National Board Certification earned. How is it that I live in a society where teachers are so undervalued?
This isn’t my first experience with feeling my chosen profession was not appreciated. When I decided to go back to the school to get my teaching license, I had to apply for a student loan to pay the graduate school tuition. As a requirement to qualify for the student loan, I had to attend a fiscal responsibility seminar. The presenter made a comment along the lines of, “make sure your education is a financially sound investment. If you are going to a career like, say teaching, you may not get your money’s worth.” I hadn’t even started my teacher prep program yet, and I was already being told that it wasn’t a wise career path.
How do we change the view of a teacher’s worth if the profession isn’t a viable option as a job that can support a family? How can we recruit new teachers to the profession and retain teachers longer than the average 3-5 years expectancy, when the teaching profession is so commonly underpaid and underappreciated? Increasing pay would validate the monetary worth of teachers, thus making the education field more attractive. However; deeper paradigm shifts are needed in order to truly elevate the profession. At a recent Teach To Lead Summit I attended, Maddie Fennell stated, “Culture eats strategy (and policy) for breakfast!” Even though teachers and other stakeholders are diligently working to make policy changes to positively affect the teaching profession, it will take much more effort to elevate teachers in society. It is much easier to change policy than culture. I believe the starting place for this paradigm shift is within the profession. Teachers need to start viewing themselves as education experts. Teachers can advance their own growth by participating in quality professional development outside what their district offers. Teachers should advocate to have their voice heard and bring their firsthand experience to the table. To be recognized as an professional, teachers should take it upon themselves to stay current on education policy both locally and nationally. There are many organizations dedicated to elevating the teaching professions. Hope Street Group, Teacher2Teacher, The Center on Great Teachers and Leaders, CTQ, and ASCD are just a few of the organizations committed to elevating teachers. I would urge teachers to expand their professional learning networks and connect with organizations and teachers across the nation.
Changes can also be made within school buildings to start to shift the culture of the profession. Teachers are often recognized in ways that would not be appropriate in other business settings. What if instead of decorating doors and providing a potluck dinner, teachers were given business cards for teacher appreciation week? I believe something as simple as business cards would empower teachers to start making connections in the community and elevate the level of professionalism.
Elevating the teaching profession will be a long process that may take generations before teachers are truly valued and compensated appropriately. Teachers can start changing the view of their profession by telling their students what a prestigious and rewarding career teaching is. Teachers are not only experts in academic content, but also in pedagogy, various aspects of child psychology and development, and behavior management. Teachers need to remind the community that school is not glorified babysitting, but a challenging and fulfilling career.