By NEMS Daily Journal
In a week-long series that concluded on Friday, the Daily Journal looked at the critical importance of good teachers to the success of Mississippi schoolchildren and examined ways to attract more of the state’s brightest college students to the profession.
While there are exceptions, data confirm that on the whole Mississippi’s highest-achieving students avoid majoring in education and going into teaching. There are multiple reasons why teaching isn’t getting its share of the best students, the low pay relative to other professions being a major one.
But pay isn’t the only factor. The prestige of the teaching profession, and perhaps even more important, the sense that the public appreciates and supports good teachers, have waned. It’s tough enough being a teacher when you believe parents and the broader community are behind you; it becomes doubly difficult when teachers feel that support isn’t there.
Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi are in the process of establishing honors-style programs to attract education majors and the Legislature has begun developing scholarships and other lures to pull top-performing students into teaching. These are good ways to enhance selectivity, and therefore prestige, in teaching.
But teaching is also is a calling. The best teachers are those who feel a special commitment to improving children’s lives, and sometimes it’s the seemingly small things that add up to make them feel respected and appreciated. A parent organization provides a small token of thanks, for example. An individual parent sends a note or says an encouraging word or simply works cooperatively in the education enterprise with a teacher, making her or his life a little easier.
On a broader scale, Tupelo recognizes “Teachers of Distinction” who are chosen by an outside panel from nominations submitted by parents and others in the community. CREATE Foundation, which established and administers the program, and the Association for Excellence in Education, a private sector support group that finances teachers’ creative projects for their students, have recently announced a partnership to expand the awards.
The $1,000 financial rewards are nice, but more important may be the simple affirmation that the community appreciates and supports what good teachers do.
Appreciation and support from parents and the community, whether formal or informal, isn’t all that’s needed to keep and attract good teachers. But it’s surely an important part of the mix.