By Rep. Susan A. Davis
Ask any teacher and they will tell you it takes strength and perseverance to lead a classroom. Grading papers, inspiring students, calling parents, and moving from one subject or class to another, are some of the tireless activities we think of that teachers toil away at throughout their long working days.
This is the image many of us have of our best teachers — individuals whose persistence would stop at nothing to deliver us an excellent education. Yet, the required attributes of a great teacher-leader go well beyond relentlessness.
The attributes of a great teacher-leader require analytical and social skills that are on par, and in some cases beyond, what it takes to be a great doctor or lawyer. It requires an incredible intelligence of people, individually and within groups.
Unfortunately, the widespread perception of teachers often falls short of the truth. Our typically limited image of what a teacher does comes from many places.
It originates when we’re children and on the receiving end of lessons that seamlessly fit into our schedule, one after another. Unbeknownst to us is the intense research, planning, and experimenting that goes into each day. Afterwards, teachers evaluate the days’ wins and losses and confer with colleagues on strategies moving forward.
Then they perfect their next lesson plan by using the day’s data so they can meet students where they are. They will reexamine the next day’s content and break it apart, piece by piece, like an engineer might do with a computer. The teacher must understand a concept from all of its angles so they can help a student do the same.
Our shorted image of teachers may also come from how much they are paid. A recent study from the Brookings Institution reported that teachers in the U.S. are paid lower than in other industrialized nations. The average teacher salary in the United States was $56,310 in 2014.
I was proud to vote for the Every Student Succeeds Act that will replace No Child Left Behind beginning in the 2017-18 school year. It provides more flexibility for teachers whose credibility and ability should be held in high regard. Instead of bringing down the hammer on teachers when students don’t perform to expectations, we should offer a supportive hand.
Lifting up the teaching profession will provide us the best return on investment for raising academic achievement, especially for students of color and in low-income communities.
Students in low-income schools often receive the most inexperienced teachers and this is a major factor in the opportunity gap that exists today. A recent study from Harvard showed that replacing the lowest performing teacher with an average teacher could improve a student’s lifetime earnings by $250,000. The performance of a teacher is often cited as the most important factor in the achievement of a student.
Yet again our focus should be on improving the performance of all teachers. That is why I am proud to announce myself as an official champion of the TeachStrong campaign. More than 60 diverse education organizations are stakeholders in the TeachStrong campaign that seeks to make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the number one education issue in the next few years.
TeachStrong Champions are elected officials and other public figures that stand by the nine TeachStrong Principles. These include diversifying the teacher force and increasing compensation to attract and reward teacher professionals. All nine principles can be viewed at teachstrong.org.
We also believe in reimagining the profession so teachers are given increased autonomy in structured and rewarding ways. This may include leading federal, state, and local policy initiatives, building curriculum for the district, or advancing ideas of their own. We must expand federal programs such as Teach To Lead that provide grants directly to teachers so they can execute projects to advance student growth as they see fit.
By elevating the teaching profession, we will drive more highly qualified college graduates to pursue a role that is both highly intellectual and tremendously prestigious. More and more millennials have skirted the idea in recent years leading to drops in enrollment at teacher colleges across California.
But most important, we must bring our attention to teachers because they are our nation’s builders. They have always deserved our respect and now we must fully act on it.
—Rep. Susan A. Davis represents Congressional District 53, which includes including the San Diego communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge and Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.