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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Column: Teachers and society

When people think of highly professional careers, often they’re thinking of ultra-desirable professions like doctors, or dentists, or lawyers. These are the careers that mom and dad love to brag about. They’re the super-sexy careers that people talk about with shiny eyes.

Let’s face it. A big reason why these professions are so popular is because they’re high-paid and way up there in terms of social status. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these careers are glamorous for a reason. They serve very important functions in our society. But so do many other careers.

Like, for instance, teachers.

The education system is in dire need of highly qualified, highly skilled teachers, but there aren’t nearly enough people trying to fill those positions.

Why is that, exactly? Why are there so many people studying for years trying to become doctors and lawyers, but not nearly as many people trying to become teachers?

People don’t respect teachers.

While everybody seems to agree that teachers are important, they don’t consider them the best and brightest of their generation. It’s almost as if the attitude towards the profession is that anybody can teach, and people who become teachers are the people who can’t get a better job.

Is that right, though? I’d say that teaching is an incredibly difficult job with as much responsibility as a doctor.

Teachers have to deal with 20 to 40 hyperactive and loud students at once. These students need to be successfully instructed in a wide range of subjects while having their differing learning styles and approaches accommodated. Teachers must do this in spite of the many students who have no desire to be sitting quietly in a classroom having knowledge forced into their heads.

Teachers have to do this every weekday for three-fourths of every year. And that’s not all; teachers need to maintain a safe, welcoming classroom learning environment at all times, and they must have the details of their lesson planned out beforehand on a schedule that often starts at 6:30 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. This is in addition to grading papers and receiving phone calls from concerned parents after hours.

Teaching takes a remarkable amount of skill and talent. The profession as a whole needs as many qualified, passionate individuals as can be found, but these people aren’t becoming teachers, frequently because of the stigma and low pay.

So what can be done about the situation?

The simplest way, of course, is to pay teachers more. Higher-paying jobs will naturally attract more people with better qualifications.

But many people will think this pay raise undeserved. Teachers’ salaries will be the first things cut in a crisis. That’s why a pay raise is only part of the solution.

I believe that the requirements for becoming a teacher need to be more rigorous. There needs to be a teaching school, the way in which doctors go to medical school, and a very difficult state or licensing examination.

If you set the standards for becoming a teacher high, people will rise to the occasion; and as those people rise, so too will public perception of the occupation. You can’t think of teachers as incompetent when their qualifications are on par with a doctor’s.

And yes, teachers do have to obtain credentials. They jump through hoops, but not to the extent of other disciplines. The U.S. needs skilled professionals in order to have the best teachers giving children the best education.

No doubt, people will ask: What is the justification for putting prospective teachers through such rigorous programs? Does an elementary school student really need somebody that specialized?

The way I see it, teachers won’t spend all that extra time and money learning about education specifically, but rather about all the other fields necessary to truly optimize the learning capacity of their students.

For instance, a teacher could benefit from training in human development — childhood to adulthood. They could also use training in leadership, communication and psychology, especially in the different modes of learning and the best ways to incorporate them.

Teachers are gateways into the future. They can make or break a student’s chances at a better life in the future. They are so important to our society, but adults don’t look up to them. In fact, frequently, they’re looked down on. They have so much responsibility, yet they aren’t recognized for it.

A higher standard for entry into the teaching profession means that teachers will be recognized for the difficulty and responsibility of their work. The disappearance of a social stigma will attract more talented, skilled individuals, ultimately improving the education experience of the students.

Tell DERRICK LEU what you think about improving teacher requirements at derleu@ucdavis.edu.

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