To the Editor:
National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer made this statement: “I’m a Princeton grad, and people like to remind me that I could have done whatever I wanted [as opposed to teaching]” (“2011 Teacher of the Year Sees ‘Abilities, Not Disabilities,’” Education Week, May 11, 2011). This condescending statement highlights a huge problem in our country that gets very little notice: Top students at first-tier colleges are often discouraged from becoming teachers of children. Teaching adults is acceptable for these high-achievers, but teaching the under-18 set is not.
In addition to that, our educational “leaders” are often people who have little or no classroom experience. This would be unheard of in law, medicine, or hairstyling. It is in very sharp contrast to high-performing countries such as Finland and South Korea, where the teacher of any level is revered.
Hopefully, Ms. Shearer will use her influence to bring greater prestige and respect to the K-12 teaching profession. My idea is for the federal government to offer fellowships and internships to talented students at top colleges of education. These students would then be placed in urban schools, where they would receive high salaries, good working conditions, and professional autonomy.
Teachers need to be empowered to run schools in the same way that physicians run clinics and attorneys run law firms. If we continue to say to the Princeton student, “You can do better than teaching school,” we can’t expect to see much positive change in education in our country.
Linda Mele Johnson
Long Beach, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 2011 edition of Education Week as We Need to Empower, Encourage Teachers