School is back in session for kids around the country, and as my own children get familiar with their new classmates and routines, I’m reminded of the incredibly important role of teachers, as well as the challenges they face in educating the next generation.
In the United States, the education system is struggling. Spending per student is on the decline (though it is still considerably higher than the global average), and our kids are falling behind. Many people attribute this to lack of funding and ongoing budget cuts, large class sizes, concerns about school safety and security, the rise of youth mental-health issues, and socioeconomic disparities, among others.
These are all important factors.
But I believe the roots go deeper, to a general lack of respect for our educators. While our teachers are held responsible for the performance of our children, they are not always able to hold students and, importantly, parents accountable for their roles in the educational process. Teachers are often blamed when outcomes don’t meet expectations, despite a variety of circumstances beyond their control.
No organization can succeed without proper alignment between responsibility and authority — and this is true for our teachers as well.
They need to have appropriate amounts of authority and respect that match their responsibilities, which are tremendous.
Yet it’s often the opposite: While they are responsible for educating our kids, their ability to hold them accountable for their work and behavior has substantially diminished over the last two decades. Without this authority, it’s difficult for teachers to be effective in their roles and get the respect they deserve.
And then there’s the current compensation model, another sign of disrespect for the profession. Teaching salaries are significantly lower than those of professions requiring similar education levels. The financial incentives for continuing education and career advancement are negligible compared with a few decades ago, while pay differences between the highest-achieving and the least-productive teachers are often minimal.
Thank goodness for the teachers who are genuinely passionate about engaging the next generation regardless of these circumstances. They are working hard to positively influence the quality and character of the individuals who will be our future leaders, innovators, and doers. They are helping develop the knowledge, skills, and talents in one of our country’s most important assets — our children.
And that’s all the more reason to fully invest in and stand by those who pursue and stay in this essential profession.
The teachers I am most grateful to for my own education, and who had the biggest impact in my life, are the ones who were toughest on me. They set the bar high, guiding and mentoring me, while also keeping me accountable. Whether or not I realized it at the time, these teachers were effective because they had responsibility and authority. I believe I’m a better person today as a result.
I bet you, too, can think of a few teachers who took a similar approach and made a difference in your life.
So how can we all encourage and support the educators of today in more confidently creating environments centered around respect and accountability? As parents, grandparents, and role models, what can we do at home and in our communities to acknowledge the tough, but ever important job they have of educating our kids?
First, we need to consistently reiterate to our children that total respect for their teachers is a must — and to model that behavior with our own words and actions.
We also need to actively partner with our educators. Raising kids is a collaborative effort, and when we work together to foster the next generation, we’re all taking responsibility for the success of our children as well as our culture and society.