By: Anthony Chen
Education has become an even more hotly contested issue in the United States in the wake of higher dropout rates, the failure of No Child Left Behind, and the rising possibility of a reverse brain drain. A study in 2009, released by The Program for International Student Assessment, ranked 15-year-old students in the United States as 25th in math and 24th in science out of all the countries that participated. The test was administered in 2007 and is called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Clearly, something has gone wrong, but who or what is to blame?
President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program has mistakenly placed the blame on teachers. The program’s emphasis on evaluation based on standardized test scores is designed to weed out the incompetent teachers; lawmakers assume that our education system is riddled with bad apples and a great cleansing is needed for improvement. Despite the fact that there may very well be incompetent teachers, lawmakers never based their assumption off any hard evidence that teachers were the sole cause of our failing education system. They were influenced by a myriad of other factors, including the considerable decline of respect for the teaching profession and their need to find a scapegoat.
The dangerously prominent mindset of politicians is that teachers are no longer the mentors of the next generation; they are viewed as the cause of the United States’ decline in global competence. Teachers aren’t the main reason for the stumbling education system; by targeting only teachers, more emphasis will be placed on test-taking rather than actual learning. Part of this problem is the result of politicians who would much rather blame teachers than the budget cuts. The lack of respect for the profession is also visible in the MSJ community; many, if not most parents want their children to become doctors, engineers, or lawyers, because they all pay extremely well. The teaching profession is not usually considered to be as glorious. The relatively low salary of the teaching profession also contributes to the loss of respect.
Lack of respect from society coupled with a relatively low salary has caused nearly half of new teachers to quit the profession within their first five years, according to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Many teachers leave for better-paying jobs in other fields, which only serves to weaken the image of the teaching profession.
Teachers are respected far more in other countries. For example, in China, Teacher Day coincides with the birthday of ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, who greatly emphasized education. Teacher Day is actually widely celebrated in China, unlike in the US, where it is not emphasized by the government at all. In China it is expected to bring gifts for the teachers, while in the US, Teacher Day often goes unmentioned.
Teachers need to be respected more in the US. They are not the sole cause of the failing education system and should not be treated as such. Enacting more incentives would help reverse the stereotype of the low-paying teaching position, as well as attract the brightest intellectuals to the teaching field. Salaries aside, though, many teachers choose the profession because they have a passion for helping the next generation.
Teachers must try and enlighten often unwilling students, and it is through their hard work that a new generation is able to develop the skills needed to interact in modern society. Amidst the flurry of statistics and accusations, we must remember that future generations depend on the mentors that guide them and we should treat these people accordingly. ▪