Every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation, if you want to make a difference in the life of a child, become a teacher. Your country needs you.
Kudos to Pres. Obama for including that statement in his State of the Union address Last Tuesday night. America’s teaching force is the cornerstone of our society. As Pres. Obama said, teachers are known as national builders in South Korea. He exhorted Americans to treat our teachers with the same level of respect.
When I asked in an earlier column for us to come together as a community and develop a multi-media campaign for raising the level of respect of our teachers it was criticized as wasteful. I still think it is worth our effort. Great teachers and teaching exist all over this valley but too few of our high school and college students aspire to become teachers today. We can and must change this trend!
A comment last week asked what makes a great teacher. Well, until a decade ago we did not have much of a clue. We more or less knew one to see one, but the qualities and characteristics of a great teacher were not in the educational literature to a substantive degree. We were never certain whether or not the nice teacher that children and parents liked actually had good achievement results for all students, irrespective of their socioeconomic status or racial/ethnic background.
Fortunately, No Child Left Behind and the use of quantifiable assessment data have given us irrefutable results of what great and effective teachers do. Superstar teachers, like Super Bowl quarterbacks, place high expectations on themselves and their teammates. They set high goals. They are constantly reflective and self-evaluative. Their lesson plans are worked and reworked, sometimes with solicitation of collegial feedback.
The great teachers know concrete ways to effectively involve their students’ parents, not adhering to only school hours to see or call parents. They go the extra mile to call them or visit them at home after work, to send them notes about positive progress, to invite them to help in the classroom or be a quest speaker. Their expectations for parent involvement are high; to great teachers 80 percent involvement is not good enough.
Great teachers are purposeful and intentional. They stay focused on their mission of increasing student achievement. These teachers always check for student understanding and put in exhaustive time to make certain every student gets it.
Superstar teachers know and care for their students as people. These teachers establish routines for lessons and daily patterns that rarely vary. In their classrooms students are at the edge of their seats always actively engaged and never doodling aimlessly. To support engagement great teachers ensure equity in classrooms. They even use techniques—such as using popsicle sticks with each student’s name to make certain they do not call on their favorites all the time.
Great teachers hold themselves as they key person responsible for student achievement and they never succumb to excuses like poverty, budget shortfalls, and school/district politics.
Great teachers, perhaps 10-20 percent of all teachers, deserve a compensation structure where they are rewarded monetarily for their highly effective and exhaustive work. We must remember and never forget that teachers are the brain surgeons for our children. The great ones in today’s classrooms in Silicon Valley should be compensated on a performance-pay basis.
Many teachers tell me they did not get into the profession to make money. But we all know that in this expensive valley money is helpful. In California, all these issues become contractual collective bargaining issues. (Note: No charter schools in this valley have collective bargaining agreements at this time.) At the collective bargaining table we can come up with a process with which teachers and management agree.
If we increase 10-20 percent of teachers’ compensation to $120,000-$150,000 per year we will concomitantly increase the numbers of high school students and college students who will consider the teaching profession. The tragedy for me today is the highest compensated teachers are the ones who are the most senior due to the traditional step and column pay structure all Santa Clara County districts employ today.