3 Things Lawmakers Can Do to Help Teachers

This holiday season, lawmakers can take several steps to empower teachers.

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Thanksgiving is an opportune time to thank teachers for the great work they do every day to shape the minds of future generations. We all remember the teachers who had the greatest impact in our lives – those we loved, those we feared, those who challenged us and those who, simply put, were no good. For me, it was Mrs. Campbell, my high school French teacher, who helped get me to college (and earn credit toward a degree) by encouraging me to take more Advanced Placement courses and tests.

Unlike most professions, where knowing your subject matter is enough to pull you through, teaching is both art and science – teachers need to know their core subject, but they also need to bring the topic to life in a way that makes learning possible. So during this holiday season, here are three ways policymakers can help celebrate this noble profession:

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  • Empower teachers with greater decision making power in exchange for results: Ask any seasoned principal and she will attest that her best teachers need a degree of freedom and autonomy to manage their classrooms and need greater purchasing power to enhance learning. This is one of the key reasons why so many teachers are drawn to start their own charter schools (independent public schools).
    • Reward high-quality teaching: While we often talk about pay for performance as a way to reward those in the profession who are excelling at producing results, and recognizing that monetary incentives are likely to attract a more diverse pool of candidates into the profession, the recognition that comes with being identified as a talented and skilled teacher can be equally rewarding. The Milken Family Foundation's Teacher Advancement Program, which offers stipends to "master teachers," found that the small incentive was often not the driver for results, but the recognition that went along with being a master teacher had an even greater impact. Sure, money is important, but don't forget the power of recognition and added responsibilities for those who are ready to move up the career ladder.
      • Invest more resources in pre-service and in-service training: Amanda Ripley's brilliant book, "The Smartest Kids in the World," offers a great overview on this topic. Countries like Finland and South Korea, whose students outrank us on international tests, attract only the best and brightest into the profession and invest significantly in training before placing them in classrooms.   
      • [Read the U.S. News debate: Are Teachers Overpaid?]

        For the rest of us, a nice thank you card or a donation through Donors Choose would be a great way to say thanks to the people who work tirelessly to help us prepare our children for the future.

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