Most of us fondly remember a teacher who helped us stretch and learn to a degree we hadn’t previously thought possible. This type of power has been noted in the “teacher effect,” which is the ability for a teacher to bring students up to grade level who previously have been as much as two or three years behind. Effective teaching must be a central feature of any state-guided strategic plan to help Utah graduates master 21st century knowledge and skills and obtain a post-high school credential.
In order to provide a world-class education that builds the foundation for our children’s future success, we must attract the very best graduates into the field. With only 23 percent of new teachers pulled from the top third of U.S. college graduates (a stark contrast to high-achieving countries including Singapore, Finland, and South Korea, all of which pull 100 percent of their teachers from the top-third of graduates), we are failing at this task.
While class rank alone does not ensure teaching quality, it creates a high-quality pool from which effective teachers can be screened and developed and ensures that those responsible with the education of our children have the content knowledge, critical thinking, and academic drive to develop knowledge-rich classrooms.
Closing this challenging talent gap requires both redefining the professionalism of teaching and a commitment to the value of public education. A recently released study on the “talent gap” in teaching noted that the top third of college graduates are looking for (in order): high-quality coworkers, prestige, a challenging work environment and high-quality training.
Teaching as a profession could and should meet all of those needs, but in reality it falls short on many of these criteria. And unfortunately, the system typically recognizes both highly effective and mediocre teachers in the same way. Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers involves creating opportunities for teachers to become recognized experts in their craft. And for most teachers, the only vertical movement available to them involves leaving the classroom for administration.
Creating career pathways within education that offer opportunities for mentoring and training other teachers (both of which strengthen the ability of all teachers) could provide an opportunity for increased earnings as well as the satisfaction derived from increased responsibility.
Improving the quality of teaching in Utah’s classrooms will require more than attracting new people to the profession; we also need to better prepare the newcomers such that they can assist our students in mastering the growing expectations we are placing on them
Improving education in the state of Utah will require a restructuring in the way we attract and retain high-quality teachers. The other aspect of quality teaching is improved teacher training — a subject that I will address in my next column. If we miss the critical component of quality teachers in our statewide strategic plan, nothing else we do will matter much.
This post is part of an ongoing series of data-driven commentary on current events. It was originally published in the Deseret News.