To elevate teaching, raise the status and salary

Across the country, teachers are walking out and striking for better conditions and pay, including in the Oakland, Calif., Unified School District.

Credit: Justin Sullivan

Credit: Justin Sullivan

Across the country, teachers are walking out and striking for better conditions and pay, including in the Oakland, Calif., Unified School District.

How can we enhance the teaching profession so people want to enter and stay in the field?

Updated data from University of Pennsylvania researcher Richard Ingersoll show one in 10 teachers quits after a year, and between 40 and 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years. About half of all turnover occurs in low-income rural and urban schools that typically have fewer resources and greater challenges.

I wrote about this question on the blog recently. Today, Steve Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and a former superintendent of the Fulton County Schools, takes up the issue.

By Steve Dolinger

In her most recent editorial, "Teachers seek real respect, not words," AJC columnist Maureen Downey spotlights public school teachers' ongoing frustrations with feeling overburdened, undervalued, and downright disrespected by policies that undermine their expertise and experience as educators.

One only needs to look to the daily news cycle and constant reports of nationwide teacher shortages, strikes, and protests to see that the teaching profession and consequently America’s public schools are facing a major crisis.

So, what are we to do?

This is a question the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has explored deeply over the last few years and answered in our two latest research publications, EdQuest Georgia: Charting Education Reform and Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2019. The answer, we believe, is simple: recognize teachers as professionals.

What it means in practice to recognize teachers as professionals includes elevating the public perception and status of teaching, increasing compensation to levels commensurate with comparable professions, and providing career-long support including mentoring, professional learning opportunities, and career ladders that allow teachers to advance their career while staying in the classroom.

In other words, professionalizing teaching is about advancing policies and practices that “show” teachers they’re respected while eliminating those that undermine their authority and expertise.

If our leaders are committed to Georgia maintaining its status as a national leader in business, they must also be committed to placing highly qualified, professional educators in every classroom in Georgia and ensuring that across our state there is a shared spirit of high standards and public service among both those inside and outside of education. Salaries for teachers in Georgia now rank 26th nationally. Gov. Brian Kemp is leading the way to improve this ranking with plans to increase teacher salaries by $3,000, but there's much more work required to ensure that all teachers in Georgia are well trained, well compensated, and well respected.