Hanna Skandera on Understanding Teachers Needs

January 2020

A Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

Personal stories abound of dreams discovered, challenges overcome, and passions or careers launched because of the influence of a caring, engaged and talented teacher.
Hanna Skandera, Editor-in-Chief

Dear Readers,

Hanna Skandera Headshot Of all the occupations in America, there is just one profession — teaching — that impacts every human being, in a daily and direct manner, for what amounts to roughly 20% of an average person’s life. It’s a fun exercise — futile, but fun nonetheless — to try to identify another profession that even comes close to having the same scope of impact that teachers have on the human race.

Personal stories abound of dreams discovered, challenges overcome, and passions or careers launched because of the influence of a caring, engaged and talented teacher.

Dare I say, teaching is a high-stakes profession. After all, if a quality education is key to success in life, unlocking opportunities, preparing engaged citizens, and creating an upwardly mobile, highly-functioning, innovative and economically thriving society, then it’s no wonder there are a lot of eyes fixated on what happens in our classrooms.

As Andreas Schleicher of the OECD in Paris so aptly states in this issue of The Line, there is a widely-held understanding that, “The quality of an education system can never exceed the quality of its teachers.” It’s a good point.

However, with this fixation, external and internal pressures abound. Politics pushes its way in. Many teachers feel underappreciated, under attack and under-compensated. It’s an unsettling dynamic — one that increasingly sparks protests and strikes. And great teachers exit the field, fed up and discouraged.
Are teachers wrong to be so frustrated? Not at all. As professionals they desire autonomy, adequate pay and meaningful support — important signals of respect and value that our nation’s current education system too often fails to provide.

Likewise, though, it is not wrong for society to be so interested in, opinionated about and concerned by the educational process. They see unacceptably low academic results in the aggregate and persistent achievement gaps, and they want better for children.

So, the question becomes: in our common quest to give our children the moon and the stars, how do we ensure that teachers are elevated, well-respected and given all they need to succeed? This is the focus of the sixth issue of The Line. We bring together national education experts, practitioners, leaders, parents and teachers for a civil discussion around one very important topic: what elevates the teaching profession?

Some may see this question as primarily a matter of compensation. If you raise teacher pay to a high enough level, it will solve the bulk of the problem. After all, as AEI Education Policy Studies Director Rick Hess reminds us, “…between 1992 and 2014, after-inflation teacher salaries actually declined by 2%.” However, virtually every contributor in this issue, including Hess and representing a wide range of political presuppositions and paradigms, believe that elevating the teaching profession is far more complicated a problem than a pay raise alone will solve (though fundamental improvements to compensation are needed). TNTP’s Dan Weisberg believes, for example, that persistently low salaries are “a symptom, not the cause, of teaching’s lack of prestige,” arguing instead that we must tackle the problem of low expectations of the profession. From his point of view, teaching is one of the only “extremely difficult” and important jobs that we don’t expect and equip people to excel. Maddie Fennell of the Nebraska State Education Association points to the experience of nurses and physicians in raising the profession’s standards and improving its training.

What will unfold in this issue is a rich, multi-dimensional exploration of how we professionalize and restore prestige to teaching, re-imagine and re-focus teacher training and professional development, better include teachers in the education transformation process, recruit and retain top talent in the teaching field, and provide teachers with adequate and secure retirement compensation.

Several essay pairings will present divergent viewpoints on these topics, though I hope you will find — as I do — that even traditional “opponents” on education matters not only find substantial common ground with one another but are able to respectfully converse about their differences.

We are also pleased to welcome U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, offering her views on challenging our education system to offer teachers greater freedom in their professional development. DeVos becomes the fourth secretary of education to offer her views in this publication, following the contributions of Arne Duncan, Margaret Spellings and John B. King, Jr. in previous issues.

You will also read the perspectives of parent leaders from across the country as well as 2019 state Teachers of the Year from Maine, New York and Missouri — each of whom offer candid and practical thoughts on how to find and develop teachers effectively.

What elevates the teaching profession? As with any great challenge, there appears to be no singular, easy answer, but thoughtfully exchanging innovative approaches and new mindsets from varying perspectives puts potential solutions on the table which is a great place to start that gets us closer to solutions we can agree on. With an improved understanding of the experiences and struggles our teachers face and an unbending desire to see every child receive the kind of life-changing instruction great teachers provide, we can make a better way for our kids and give our teachers the support and prestige they deserve. Although there is no silver bullet, one thing is clear: we cannot delay. Our students and teachers are counting on us and our democracy depends on it.

Hanna Skandera Signature

Best,

Hanna Skandera
Editor-in-Chief, The Line