By BENJAMIN ROCHETEAU
In 2015, United States high schools were internationally ranked twenty-fourth in Program for International Student Assessment scores, or what is more commonly known as PISA scores, which evaluate math and reading skills, as reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that only eighty-two percent of teenagers finished graduated from high school. In 2015, only seventy percent of teenagers got into college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U.S. is generally recognized as the most powerful country in the world, with one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, and yet its teenagers are nowhere near the most academically successful. While other factors undoubtedly play into America’s seemingly low rankings for college-bound students, the undervaluing of teachers plays an important role in this dynamic. The job has few benefits, low wages and moderate job requirements.
While the entire education system is often blamed for this problem, some of the responsibility should be placed on students and teachers. The level that students can achieve is limited by students’ willingness to learn and by the extent and depth of a teacher’s knowledge in his or her fields. So by improving the level of the teachers, the level of the students will increase, increasing the level the next generation of students.
In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that teachers earned an average of $56,383 a year. Teachers also have access to decent health insurances and retirement plans. To become a teacher, one needs a Bachelor’s degree or an equivalent, to take exams to prove competence in certain fields, take required courses and to go through a teacher induction program.
Teachers already do an excellent job, but the job is not what it should be. High school teachers should have the same benefits and salaries in function to their degrees as university professors, because high school jobs are arguably just as important as those at a university. They give students the knowledge that they will need to succeed in college, and that students will use for the rest of their lives. That is ample reason for high school teachers to be treated the same as university professors. In this country, there is an unfounded low regard for the teaching profession. What most people do not recognise is that teaching is a hard and taxing job, and that teachers they do not receive the recognition that they are due for their hard work.
There needs to be more recognition for the profession, and there needs to be changes to the job. Teachers need to receive better training and degrees, but also receive better wages and benefit. To be able to better teach their students, teachers need to be able to understand what they are teaching beyond simply knowing that it is true. They need to be able to answer any question asked regarding the classes they teach in depth without any external help, because that will affect the way they teach the subject. If they do not truly understand what they are teaching, subjects will be taught in a way that makes related subjects harder to learn. For example, if a math teacher explains exponentials a certain way but another teacher tries to teach students about logarithms in a different way that does not correspond with the first teacher’s way of teaching, the student may end up more confused than enlightened.
When teachers do a bad job, it reflects negatively on all teachers. People categorise all teachers as bad when one teacher does a sloppy job. This is why ensuring that teachers have the level to teach their classes is critical to improving the teaching profession. Teachers need to thoroughly understand every concept they teach. To be able to do that, they need to have at least a master’s degree in the subjects they teach, as bachelor degrees do not give them the knowledge they need to do so. But high school teachers also need to receive wages similar to those that university professors receive. They need to receive better healthcare and retirement options. And to provide job stability, there must be a system similar to the tenure tracks in universities, where the longer the professor works for the university, the harder it is to fire the professor.
These policies would help improve the teaching profession by making teaching a more qualified and allow them to do a better job. The increased benefits and pay would provide the necessary incentives to attract enough workers with the necessary skills to teach the classes. The tenure system would provide job security in a more efficient fashion as well. Tenure programs guarantee that those who do get it are good at their job because a tenure requires sustained hard work and productivity for seven years.
If we gave teachers the respect they deserve and ensured that they were thoroughly educated in their fields, teaching would be a completely different job. While it would be more difficult to be a teacher, it would also have much higher benefits. Public school teachers receive healthcare, retirement benefits and have teacher unions to provide job security. University professors, on the other hand, have the first two, but better, and instead of having teacher unions to provide job security, they have tenure tracks to do so. Professors also have much more schedule flexibility, but they also have busy schedules because they also conduct research. In most regards, being a high school teacher would be very similar to being a professor, but without the PhD and research and with smaller classes, less traveling options, and with more hours. Teaching high schoolers would become a more reputable job and get the recognition it deserves, and it would become a good alternative to being a professor.