Heather Borden Herve’s recent opinion essay about teachers and the teaching profession encouraged so many responses that I was reluctant to add one more, but it’s difficult to resist commenting on the profession that was my career. I wouldn’t waste my time responding to a predominantly negative attack on teachers, but Heather’s essay is positive, for the most part, especially in its support of good teachers and the important work they do.
Anyone who has been a teacher for many years knows the positive effects of his/her efforts on the students in their care. I use the word care because it includes more than a knowledge of subject matter; it describes the formation of character and attitude, which is part of teaching.
"Why are we arguing about what we pay good teachers?” is one of Heather’s central questions and issues. The main reason is that public school salaries are paid by citizens’ taxes, and private school salaries are paid by tuition and
fund-raising. Everyone wants to see their money well spent, and some people
don’t agree that there is nothing more important than the quality of education
a society provides for its youth. I will not attempt to change the minds of
such people; the evidence is everywhere. One need only be aware of the salaries
of people in business, science, sports, etc. to know that teachers’ salaries
are ridiculously low.
I am in favor of merit pay for teachers; there are few other professions which do
not reward success according to certain criteria. In teaching, success should
be measured and merit pay given for more than high test scores, because
education involves much more. It is more than acquiring the skills needed for a
career. It includes the development of character and growth of the individual
into a good person and responsible citizen.
"We shouldn’t be demonizing teachers as a whole,” Heather contends, “but ferreting out the bad ones.” Who would disagree, except teachers who are not doing their job? It’s true that teachers unions and teacher tenure sometimes prevent the dismissal of poor teachers, but they also protect good teachers. I’m not sure about the solution to this situation; it’s one that will have to be worked out perhaps by all parties involved – teachers, parents, students.
“Teachers deserve more respect,” Heather concludes. It’s been my experience that those teachers who earn respect, by doing their job well and holding their students
to high standards (academic and personal) usually receive it. One of the most concise and profound statements about teaching was written by Henry Adams more than a century ago: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”