Wednesday March 6, 2013

A lot has been said in recent years about the need to improve the education our children are receiving in school. Politicians and education experts debate endlessly about ways to improve curriculum, raise test scores and provide more resources (i.e. money) for the schools.

Most agree, however, that the single best way to improve education is to recruit high quality teachers, and let them teach.

"A teacher can have an enormous effect on a child in his classroom," The Economist wrote in a recent report. "No school factor -- budget, class size, curriculum -- is more important. But America does a horrendous job recruiting teachers."

The magazine notes that high-performing countries are more selective in who they admit to their teacher-training programs and pick only the best in the applicant pool. Here in America, many of the best and brightest are choosing other professions both for financial reasons and for prestige, both of which are seriously lacking in this country for the teaching profession.

With budgets tight everywhere it may be difficult to raise teacher salaries, but there is something we can do about making teaching a more attractive profession to enter, and stay in, regardless of the salary. We as a society, and parents in particular, need to give teachers the respect they deserve.


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Ron Clark -- an award-winning teacher who works with disadvantaged students and has written numerous books on teaching children in middle school -- has a few thoughts on this matter. In a recent article for CNN Living, Clark singled out parents as the biggest impediment to recruiting and keeping quality teachers.

"Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list ‘issues with parents' as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel," Clark wrote. "Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges."

For starters, he said, many parents don't want to hear an honest assessment of how their child is doing academically and behaviorally in the classroom. "I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child, but sometimes if you're willing to take early warning advice to heart, it can help you head off an issue that could become much greater in the future," he wrote.

"And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them," Clark continued. "Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic."

He said parents should accept that it's OK for their child to get in trouble sometimes. It builds character and teaches life lessons. "As teachers, we are vexed by those parents who stand in the way of those lessons; we call them helicopter parents because they want to swoop in and save their child every time something goes wrong," Clark wrote.

Worst of all, he continued, is parents who threaten teachers and school administrators with lawyers, lawsuits and loss of their job over minor issues and misunderstandings. Clark relayed one story of a child who wrote on his face with a permanent marker. The teacher tried to get it off with a wash cloth, and it left a red mark on the side of his face. The parent called the media, and the teacher lost her job.

"To think that we might lose our jobs over something so minor is scary," Clark wrote. "Why would anyone want to enter our profession? If our teachers continue to feel threatened and scared, you will rob our schools of our best and handcuff our efforts to recruit tomorrow's outstanding educators."

Again, it all comes down to respect: "We need you to have our backs, and we need you to give us the respect we deserve. Lift us up and make us feel appreciated, and we will work even harder to give your child the best education possible."

Sounds simple enough to us.