Why Is Teaching Not Taken Seriously In The U.S.?

“We are very proud of our teachers,” declared the Finnish Minister of Education, speaking in New York at the first-ever International Summit on Teaching, which took place last week in New York, reports Linda Darling-Hammond.

Writing a blog in The Washington Post, Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education as Stanford University, points out that this is a statement rarely heard in the United States. It is her belief that the approach to teaching in the U.S. is almost diametrically opposed to the approach used by the highest-achieving nations.

Teachers Earn 60% Of The Salaries Earned By Other College Graduates

And she continues:

It was the first time that government officials and union leaders from 16 nations met together in candid conversations that found substantial consensus about how to create a well-prepared and accountable teaching profession.

And it was, perhaps, the first time that the growing de-professionalization of teaching in America was recognized as out of step with the strategies pursued by the world’s educational leaders.

Evidence presented at the summit showed that, with dwindling supports, 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. 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.

Finland, Singapore And China Take Teaching Seriously

Let’s look at some of the other differences that Darling-Hammond points out:

* In Finland and Singapore, prospective teachers come from a pool of the best graduates, they enter a high-quality preparation program, and they receive a salary while they prepare. They enter a well-paid profession and are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours professional time a week to engage in shared planning.

* In Singapore, teachers are encouraged to pursue career ladders, and as they expand their opportunities, more training is paid for by the government. The teacher evaluation system does not use numbers to rate teachers, but focuses on how well teachers develop the whole child and contribute to each other’s efforts and the welfare of the whole school.

* In China, billions of yen are being spent on a plan to improve millions of teachers’ preparation, professional development and working conditions, including building special teachers’ housing.

The United States Does Not Take Teaching Seriously

To this we can compare the thousands of teachers being laid off around the United States, and attempts like those in Wisconsin to eliminate collective bargaining, creating the very real possibility of salaries and working conditions sinking still lower.

Here’s how Darling-Hammond finishes her blog:

Clearly, another first is called for if we are ever to regain our educational standing in the world: A first step toward finally taking teaching seriously in America. Will our leaders be willing to take that step? Or will we devolve into a third class power because we have neglected our most important resource for creating a first-class system of education?

Let’s hope President Obama and Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan are paying attention.

photo from iStock


Anne F
Anne Fabout a year ago

We need to honor teachers. More pay, sabbaticals, looping classrooms, training that makes sense, and NOT hiring business people to take charge of school districts would be good steps.

Joshua Y.
Joshua Y.5 years ago

To elucidate the truth of how under-appreciated educators are, I feel as if I should explain my experience with more detail. I have taught GED, ESL and Digital and Workplace Literacy. When personal sentiment is expressed describing today's teachers as less intelligent than those of the past, I find such statements offensive. Try creating your own marketing plans for five sites, balancing attendance records, providing ADA accommodations, extrapolating data in Crystal Reports, serving on a Program Improvement Committee, all while teaching everything from long division and basic literacy to advanced evaluation and synthesis of classic literary works and trigonometric identities while having to fluently speak one or two foreign languages to teach internationals English, and keeping current on business law and HR policies as well as technological advancements for digital and workplace literacy. Teachers are declining in quality? Absolutely not!

Joshua Y.
Joshua Y.5 years ago

For someone who is a part time adult education teacher and works for a large health care system, I can say that teaching is under-appreciated. Adult ed teachers have to maintain their own attendance base, compile their own records, know content standards off the top of their head, and move around the class as if they are waiting tables. We don't have our own classrooms or desks, so we have to keep a lot of our materials in our cars. It is a very demanding job, as our classes can have over 40 students at a time. Not to mention, our classes are at all different levels, and require individualized learning plans. Imagine teaching everything all at the same time, and you have what I do.

William Y.
William Y6 years ago

@ David F. You got that right.

Brittany Dudas
Brittany D6 years ago

Education in this country is going down hill. Schools only care about making sure students pass standardized tests, tests they have to take because of the states. If standardized tests where gotten rid of, that would be a step in the right direction. Another thing would be to ensure teachers are properly trained and actually teach.

Most of what I learned I read in books outside of school. Not good at all.

David F.
Barbara F6 years ago

Sorry, my message got truncated. Here is the remainder.

an out-of-school suspension so that they can get a vacation. Most of the parents work during the day, so who is home to watch them? Nobody. They roam the streets and do as they please. I don't blame the schools; I blame the parents and legislators. We need to get really tough and serious about education in this country. Give the teachers the authority they need to run their classrooms, and parents need to see that students attend classes every day, toe the line, and do their homework. Who knows, maybe this country as a whole will become a better place to live.

David F.
Barbara F6 years ago

As a retired electrician from a local school district, I can attest to the devalued status of education as a whole in this country. When I attended school in the 50's and 60's, I was taught to respect those in authority. I was scared that if I misbehaved in school I would catch hell when I got home. I studied and learned, although I wish I had studied harder and had become a better student (I was lazy, not a trouble-maker). I attended college and have acquired three degrees, because that's what I wanted.

As time progressed during my career with the school system, I began to notice a change in public perception of the school's role. It dawned on me that parents (some of whom I attended school with) were beginning to show up at the schools to do battle with principals and teachers. The perception was that the teacher was singling-out or "picking" on their little angel. I knew these kids and I can tell you with certainty, they were not angels. Furthermore, with the teachers' workload, there was not time or energy to devote to picking on one kid.

Somehow, the general public has come to expect the teachers to be babysitters while they go off and do their own thing: work, play, whatever.

By the time I retired in 2006, I was appalled and flabbergasted at what the schools had become. Between legislation and public perception, the schools had become daycare centers for kids. You can't touch them anymore, you can't yell at them anymore, and the kids will work the system to get

Ryder W.
Past Member 6 years ago

most of my teachers are not very intelligent. all they do is repeat the text in our text books. i've learned more from educational tv, books, and the internet than i've ever learned from a teacher =/

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal6 years ago

Educating our children should be a priority, but take a look at what legislation is doing to public education...

Belinda Lang
Belinda Lang6 years ago

Many years ago teachers in America received RESPECT. Parents cooperated with them for the benefit of the children. Nowadays teachers are subject to things like parents coming to school and physically attacking them instead of acting civilized by going to the principal with any grievance against a teacher. No amount of money would get me to be a classroom teacher. The most difficult part of being a teacher is dealing with people who don't respect education.

When I was a child I considered it an honor to be asked to do something for the teacher. To this day, teachers have my empathy and respect.