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You Get
What You Pay For


According to the Economic Policy Institute, "public school teachers in 2006 had 15 percent lower weekly earnings than comparable workers." Are we willing to pay for the quality of teacher we want?

The law defines a highly qualified teacher as one who has

  • obtained full state certification as a teacher (including alternative certification); or
  • passed the state teacher licensing exam; or
  • holds a license to teach in a state; and
  • has not had certification or licensure requirement waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis.

The prospect of "highly qualified" teachers in every public school classroom is certainly an appealing one. But is it enough?

As a teacher, I've worked with more than 50 teachers at two different elementary schools. As a parent of four children, I've had direct contact with nearly 150 more public schools teachers. Of those 200 plus teachers, some were exceptional, most were good, many were mediocre, and a few were downright destructive. Yet, every one of those teachers would meet government guidelines for highly qualified teachers.


About the Author

Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for nearly two decades. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.

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In my experience, "highly qualified" is not synonymous with "high quality."

If we want high-quality teachers ...

It isn't enough to require teachers to have an academic background in their subject matter. We need teachers who are able to break down subject matter into teachable -- and learnable -- steps; teachers who are aware of the problem areas in the subject matter they teach and who can employ effective strategies to help students overcome the gaps in understanding that inevitably arise. Subject matter experts who can't grasp the source of a student's confusion can "talk" the subject, but they can't teach it.

It isn't enough to require teachers to be certified to work with kids. We need teachers who genuinely enjoy working with kids -- all kids; teachers who thrive on the enthusiasm and energy of their active students, relish the thoughtfulness and introspection of their quiet students, enjoy the humor of the class clowns, and recognize the neediness of their chronic misbehavers. We need teachers who appreciate the differences that make each kid special and seek to channel -- not eliminate -- those differences.

It isn't enough to require teachers to pass a written licensing exam. We need teachers with exceptional verbal skills; teachers who can explain concepts to students clearly and connect them coherently. We need teachers who communicate frequently and successfully with all others involved in their students' education; teachers who exchange ideas and lessons with colleagues, share experiences and insights with specials and other support personnel, and convey to parents a spirit of partnership in their children's education.

It isn't enough to require teachers to have taken courses in classroom management. We need teachers who manage their classrooms effectively because they are acutely attuned to the classroom environment; teachers who have a sense of the mood of their students, who know when spirits -- or tempers -- are high and take steps to defuse difficult situations before they erupt. We need teachers who plan their lessons so they can pay attention to their students.

It isn't enough to require teachers who know a variety of instructional strategies. We need teachers who know that nothing limits academic achievement more effectively than low expectations; teachers who understand that a student's belief in his or her ability to learn is critical to whether he or she does learn. We need teachers who believe that every child can learn -- whatever his or her social, ethnic, or family background -- and who convey that belief to their students.

It isn't enough to require teachers to participate in occasional professional development programs. We need teachers who take responsibility for their own professional development on a daily basis; teachers who subscribe to professional magazines, journals, and online newsletters, seek out appropriate workshops and conferences, and participate in educational forums and online chats. We need teachers who invite classroom observation, solicit advice, and "borrow" effective lessons and strategies from other teachers. We need teachers who never stop learning.

It isn't enough to require teachers to have a college degree -- or even a master's degree. We need teachers who are good role models; teachers who speak and write with grammatical correctness, deal patiently with difficult situations and difficult people, treat everyone fairly, have good manners, and control their tempers at all times. We need teachers who practice what they preach.

It isn't enough to spend millions of dollars to recruit highly qualified teachers. We need to find the funds to hire the highest quality teachers.

In today's economy, the number of quality people who can afford to teach is rapidly diminishing. Until we recognize that fact, until we are willing to pay for the quality of education we want, we are going to get the quality of education we are willing to pay for. It isn't enough.