Recently both President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have stated that paying higher salaries for teachers with Masters degrees is money poorly spent. Well, except for maybe math and science teachers. But for the rest of us educators, having advanced education does not bring any greater results in student achievement. Both men have also placed strong emphasis on charter schools and programs such as Teach For America to as solutions to the current problems in education. Both charter schools and TFA depend on young and enthusiastic educators with little to no experience. They are inexpensive to hire when they bring a desire to change the world and make a difference in the lives of kids – but have little education experience or graduate degrees. You can’t beat the price for enthusiasm.
In more than 16 years as an educator I have come to realize that experience, education and training DO matter. It has taken me many years to craft my lessons and understand the rhythm that is necessary to keep a lesson moving and motivate every learner in the room to work to their best potential. It has taken many professional development workshops and trainings to be able to integrate Project Based Learning, Differentiated Instruction, Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences, 21st Century Skills and all of the trends in education that have been in vogue since in the past two decades. I have learned to map my curriculum with the best of them; I design my courses with Backward Planning. Sure, any college grad could probably learn the lingo, but to really bring the methods into their classrooms is another thing.
What I’ve really learned in 16 years in education is how to work with kids and parents. I, like so many young teachers, really thought that kids who didn’t do well were lazy or just didn’t try. What I’ve come to understand is that kids do care and kids do try. Finding the best way for the student to demonstrate learning is the tricky part. And the part that comes with experience. Finding the patience to work with a student who is acting out or refusing to engage in class comes from knowing that tomorrow you’ll hopefully see a change. Or the next day. Teaching a student is not only about the subject but about life. Experience has taught me that every day students bring baggage from outside of class – a home foreclosed on, a parent’s illness, divorce, an abusive relationship. Experience has taught me that I am only one adult that can influence a child’s life, but at that moment in time I am the only adult who is there in the classroom to make a difference, who can make their day better, who can help them learn something they have never known before.
With 16 years’ experience, a Master’s degree, and hundreds of hours of further professional development and training, I earn much less than my contemporaries who have chosen other careers. I have no expectation that I will ever earn a bonus or get a substantial raise. I am a professional educator. I care deeply about kids and am passionate about teaching and learning. Our children matter – your children matter to me and I hope my children matter as much to the teachers who educate them. With all due respect, President Obama and Secretary Duncan – you are wrong. Advanced education for teachers improves teaching. Experience improves teaching. And measuring education only by student test scores is wrong.