Better teachers require better incentives — let's make it happen

Wednesday, May 9, 2018
The Hill

If teaching is considered by many to be one of the most honorable professions, why does it take teacher walkouts around the country to draw attention to the continued lack of support for educators in the U.S.?

Well, we could start by treating our teachers better and giving them a greater role in decisions affecting the classroom.

Teachers are rarely at the table when potential changes in education policy are discussed. The enforced use of scripted curricula diminishes their classroom autonomy. Teachers are also excessively criticized across social media with vitriolic posts mocking their abilities.

Some criticism has come from the corporate reform movement that stands to profit from public dissatisfaction with public schools.

Moreover, if test scores aren’t where we want them, policymakers often blame teachers — an easy scapegoat rather than addressing the real problems of poverty and social inequity that certainly impact student learning and reach far beyond the control of teachers.

But teachers are now fighting back.

From West Virginia to Arizona to North Carolina there is a resounding, collective wave of voices advocating for better pay, increase in per-student expenditures, health-care coverage in retirement and respect. On May 16, many teachers in North Carolina will take a personal day for a "March for Students and Rally for Respect" that coincides with the opening of the North Carolina General Assembly. Several of the state’s largest districts plan to close due to a lack of teachers that day.

Though support for these walkouts is mixed, it is important to understand what we all have to gain from changing how we view teachers and teaching in this country. Refusing to change will have serious consequences for our country’s competitive future.

Low teacher pay is certainly a deterrent for some considering the profession. When you adjust for inflation, teachers earn about 11 percent less than they did 15 years ago yet are being asked to contribute more toward health insurance costs. Last year North Carolina ranked 35th in average teacher compensation, according to the National Education Association.

Read the full article by Kristen Stephens is an associate professor of the practice in Duke University’s Program in Education and Cook Center affiliate here.