Stop Bashing Teachers!

In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a flurry of teaching-bashing going on lately in the media, and Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, founders of the wonderful 826 National tutoring centers in San Francisco, have had enough of it.

Enough With The Teacher-Bashing

Writing in Sunday’s New York Times, they explain:

When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

Teachers Earn 60% Of Salaries Earned By Other College Graduates

Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on in education. As I wrote here, a month ago, most teachers in the United States must go into debt in order to prepare for an occupation that pays them, on average, 60% of the salaries earned by other college graduates.

Those who work in poor districts will not only earn less than their colleagues in wealthy schools, but they will pay for many of their students’ books and supplies themselves.

And with states’ willingness to lower standards rather than raise salaries for the teachers of the poor, a growing number of recruits enter with little prior training, trying to learn on-the-job with the uneven mentoring provided by cash-strapped districts.

One Third Of New Teachers Leave Within First Five Years

It is no wonder that a third of U.S. beginners leave within the first five years, and those with the least training leave at more than twice the rate of those who are well-prepared.

According to Eggers and Calegari, this turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion annually.

How To Recruit And Train Teachers And Treat Them Fairly

Taking a positive stance on this situation, the authors go on to suggest that with over half of the nation’s 3.2 billion teachers retiring in the next ten years, the country has a rare chance to turn things around. And they make some very interesting points:

People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.

The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.

Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.

Very Low Teacher Turnover In South Korea, Finland, Singapore

As a result of this respectful treatment, teacher turnover is remarkably low: in South Korea, it’s one percent per year, in Finland it’s two percent, and in Singapore it’s three percent.

Clearly, there could well be other factors involved in these numbers, but they do paint a startling contrast to teacher turnover numbers in the U.S.

In conclusion, Eggers and Calegari report on a survey:

McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a maximum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.

If President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan are serious about the United States regaining our educational standing in the world, they need to stop bashing teachers and start taking education in American seriously.


Photo credit: iStock


David D.
David DeRousse6 years ago

Thanks Tamara D. for so civilly adding to the debate.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Teachers are expected to be miracle workers for chicken feed.

Tamam Tracy M.
Tamam Moncur6 years ago

Check out this poem entitled Stop Bashing Teachers Stop!

Linda C.
Linda C.6 years ago

As a teacher I can say that one of the most important elements in how teachers are treated is the extent to which parents accept their responsibilities as parents. Those who do raise children who accept their responsibilities and do their work and the families treat teachers with respect. The parents who do not accept their responsibilities raise children who also do not, and those are the ones who tend to dump the blame on teachers because they don't want to accept their own responsibilities. They are also the ones who call the teacher and try to bully or threaten the teacher into giving the student a better grade than they deserve.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

Amen. Let's treat one another with dignity and respect as human beings.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Anne Brabson
Anne B6 years ago

I'm about to retire from elementary classroom teaching after 25 years in an urban downtown setting. Although I've had a satisfying career and am glad I chose this profession (which is WAY more than a job), I'm very concerned with the future of public school education. Teacher bashing has indeed become acceptable. How will systems recruit and keep quality educators without improving low salaries and raising incentives for those brave enough to teach in an environment increasingly hostile to classroom teachers? I wish new educators well, but unless changes are made to do more than continually raise the bar for test scores, I fear for the future...

Tamam Tracy M.
Tamam Moncur6 years ago

Here's a great poem entitled Stop Bashing Teachers Stop!

Tracy Mccann
Tracy Mccann6 years ago

Right on.

Joseph P.
Dr Joseph Pizzo6 years ago

Many school district (or even building) administrators forget they ever were teachers. I came to teaching with a PhD in a real academic discipline, Engish and American Literature, taught for five or six years, during which I earned an MSEd in Administration and Supervision, and have served as an assssitant principal, middle school and high school principal and, presently, as Executive Deputy Superintendent. (The "Executive" part of the title was tacked on by the school board to designate that I'm in charge of the district when the superintendent is not in and the make specific that I supervise the Asst. Supts.) I've hired some very good teachers in my time — and some who weren't suited to the profession. Every day, I see or hear about our teachers and principals going the extra mile for our students. I write far more Letters of Commendation than Letters of Reprimand — and perhaps that tells the story better than I ever could. Teachers and their work are undervalued in our society. I met any number of people who belief that I'm proudest of my Ivy League PhD and appointment as a full professor to teach graduate courses at a major university; they're wrong. The achievement I value most is my being recognized by students, parents, my own supervisors and my peers as a markedly above-average teacher of English. Anyone can earn a PhD; not everyone can successfully teach the kids I've taught over ttne span of a 25-year career.