More Respect Please, Teachers Say
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
America's top teachers are grateful for the higher salaries that more and more state legislatures are approving to make public education a more attractive profession, but the maestros of the classroom also want greater respect, a new survey shows.
The survey of 400 winners of teacher of the year awards was comissioned by the Council of Chief State School Officers, an association of state education officials, and Scholastic, Inc., a global children's education publishing and media company.
Its purpose: to learn why teachers leave the profession and what can be done to stem the tide of resignations.
A large majority of the teachers polled said higher starting salaries and all-around better pay is needed. In at least eight states -- Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Colorado, Indiana and Nebraska -- teacher pay raises and college scholarship programs for would-be teachers have been approved this year.
But an even larger majority, 84 percent, said respect is key to keeping good teachers.
Faith Kline, Pennsylvania's Teacher-of-the-Year 2000, takes issue with the old adage: If you can't do something, teach it.
"That (adage) speaks volumes for what the public feels about teaching. People say they respect teachers, but they don't demonstrate that respect," Kline told Stateline.org.
Overcrowded classrooms, tight budgets and hiring new teachers with little or no experience, shows a lack of respect for teachers, Kline says.
"In other professions we would never have a novice learn by trial and error. A first-year attorney would never be left to handle a highly-publicized murder case alone and a first-year surgeon would never perform surgery alone. Teachers need to be mentors and to be mentored," Kline adds.
U.S. Department of Education estimates the nation will need 2 million new teachers by 2010. States are offering all kinds of incentives to entice people into the profession, from signing bonuses -- Massachusetts offers as much as $20,000 to some teachers -- to paying for a student's college tuition if they promise to teach in-state after graduating.
Eighty percent of the top teachers polled said higher starting salaries and better pay scales will help, as will scholarships for college (75 percent), loan forgiveness plans (65 percent) and signing bonuses for teachers working in urban or rural schools.
"Our nation's leading teachers are speaking in near unison on the issues most important to them: increased teacher salaries, stronger mentorship for beginning teachers and the need for public respect for teaching and its importance to children," said Gordon Ambach, Executive Director of the CCSSO, in a statement.
According to the National Education Association, America's largest teachers' union, last year's national average teacher salary was $45,500 and the average starting salary was $25,000.
The teachers surveyed said problems that effect morale in the schools included too much paperwork and administrative duties (80 percent), over-large classes (45 percent) and a lack of parental involvement (50 percent) and support from school administrators (90 percent).
Seventy percent of those polled said that giving teachers more power to make decisions in the school would make a difference.
Kline says giving teachers leadership opportunities would make a world of difference. As it stands there really isn't a career ladder in teaching, she says. If you want to advance you become an administrator or a union representative, and you leave the classroom.
"Many teachers don't want to be principals but that doesn't mean they can't be leaders in their schools. We can change the structure around it will take vision but it must be done to retain and recruit over the next ten years," said Kline, who teaches at Anna B. Daye public school in Philadelphia.