By Representative Mike Honda and Dennis Van Roekel
Last week, the nation celebrated American Education Week--an opportunity to honor educators for their selfless work creating learning environments for our children to grow and thrive. Early on, parents and community members recognized the importance of honoring educators--too often underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated.
In recent years, the significance of American Education Week has come into clearer view, as the teaching profession in particular and public education in general have come under intense scrutiny. Politicians and pundits, some misguided, others malicious, have called for reforming public schools, but leave educators out of the reform plans.
Rather than being the target of reform, teachers should be the leaders of change in their own profession that will ultimately affect their classrooms, schools and districts. In districts across the country--in partnership with their unions--educators are active agents of change, elevating the profession and improving educational opportunities for students.
According to research estimates, one in four beginning teachers will leave the profession within their first three years in the classroom, and in urban areas, close to 50 percent will leave within five years. This is highly problematic for schools from a logistical, financial and educational perspective.
A stable teaching force facilitates cohesion among educators to pursue a common vision; an unstable one can lead to different goals and strategies. The cost of having to hire and train new staff puts a strain on cash-strapped districts. It takes time to hone the craft of teaching, so having a revolving door on teaching only hurts teachers and children.
One challenge is the career path for teachers. Effective teachers are often recruited into the ranks of school administration and plucked out of the classroom. The career ladder creates an incentive for top teachers to leave the profession to enter administration for greater pay.
Conversely, the lack of competitive salaries for classroom teachers compared to other professions diminishes the consideration of teaching as a viable long-term career option. All of these issues rob children of the diverse, committed, capable teachers they need and deserve.
We recommend building up the teaching profession from within and without by fostering teacher leadership opportunities at all times during the span of a teacher's career. Education policy should facilitate the development of peer and mentor relationships among teachers.
Compared to other top-achieving nations, American teachers spend relatively small amounts of time collaborating with their peers.
This time is seen as invaluable by other countries, as it allows for support, idea generation and solving of teaching and classroom management problems. Additionally, it provides support and guidance to new teachers from more seasoned veterans. America's high-performing schools foster this culture of collaboration among teachers.
The educational career ladder should entice quality teachers to remain in the classroom by developing positions of teacher leadership. To facilitate the development of mentorship relationships, the position of master teacher should be developed.
Rather than moving effective teachers from the classroom into school administration (or having teachers leave the profession for other careers), education policy should encourage leadership opportunities within the classroom. These teachers would have the added responsibility to mentor and guide novice teachers to become more effective. Since each school faces its own unique challenges and circumstances, these teachers could address teacher effectiveness issues within the school culture.
Finally, policy should nurture a culture of teacher-led professional development within and between schools. Much of the professional development teachers now receive "one-shot" deals that do not adequately address their needs or professional growth.
Compared to other top-performing countries, the U.S. spends significantly less time developing their workforce. Teachers should create and lead relevant and targeted professional development opportunities.
Consistent with the development of master teachers, teachers should be able to demonstrate and share their best practices. Professional development that is in-depth and salient would increase teacher effectiveness and pay dividends in the classroom for the time invested.
It's equally important that this professional development carry over into clinical education programs at colleges and universities, so our newest teachers and our most seasoned pros receive quality professional enrichment.
It's time to overhaul public education and let teachers share in leadership. Teachers are on the frontlines every day working with our children; they above all others know the challenges and pitfalls. Now we must trust their insights and elevate their voices.