May 2, 2011

Thank You Teachers

Today marks the start of Teacher Appreciation Week, and we here at StudentsFirst want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all the educators who have shaped our lives and who continue to work so hard on behalf of kids every day.
Great teachers are critical resources in this country, and all of you deserve our appreciation for the essential work you do. You are helping future astronauts, doctors, artists and fellow educators find their own paths to success. Along the way, you are diligently teaching kids to become great readers so they can engage in our information-rich society and become informed citizens through books, newspapers, the Internet, and more. You are helping them learn their multiplication tables and master fractions -- key building blocks for higher-level math skills children need to know in a modern economy. And you are igniting their passions in fields like science, writing, and history.
You teachers are the most important educational component of a child's school day. Sure, text books matter. So does the state of our school buildings. But those things don't have nearly the kind of influence on student learning as you have. Simply put, there is no other school-based factor that is as closely linked to student success as teacher quality.
Given how critical your role is, and how hard you are working, we are fighting to save great teachers during this difficult time in our nation's economy. Across the country, school budgets are being slashed and reductions in force are imminent. More than 160,000 teachers are expected to lose their jobs this year. What's more, that's not happening in a way that values your work. Instead, in most places, the teachers hired last must be the first ones to go during layoffs, regardless of their impact on student success. That kind of thinking says the quality of a person's work isn't even worth examining. That kind of thinking says all teachers are interchangeable.
We know that's not true, and we know we can do better as a nation. That's why we're working hard to save great teachers and make sure outdated practices like last in, first out are overhauled. We also must elevate the status of the teaching profession in this country by reforming the evaluation system you work under. It's demoralizing to work in an environment in which you're observed infrequently and go without the feedback and professional development everyone desires and deserves. Evaluations should be fair and objective, linked to student success and a clear set of expectations around what good teaching looks like -- not arbitrary opinions on the matter.
Similarly, school compensation systems are outdated and don't reward excellence. You earn small salary increases in lockstep and based on your length of service or degrees earned instead of earning sizeable raises for demonstrating your impact on your students. Teachers who show they can help students make academic gains and who teach hard-to-staff subjects in hard-to-staff areas must be compensated appropriately. That's not happening in most places today.
In the 21st Century, with so much critical work ahead of us, a fairer more sensible way of hiring and retaining, evaluating and compensating teaches is badly needed. We must elevate teachers by recognizing and rewarding their great work. Thank you for working with us as we pursue these important goals. We couldn't do it without you.

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