OUR OPINION: State must attract, retain top teachers

By NEMS Daily Journal

Teachers in Mississippi are on the hot seat. In this age of test-driven accountability, our state’s teachers face the double-edged challenge of lingering low educational achievement and high poverty.
Mississippi teachers are expected to perform at a higher level than ever before, yet their training doesn’t fully prepare them for the task. Today’s second installment in the Daily Journal of a six-day focus on teacher quality – part of our year-long series “The State of Our Schools” – gives voice to some of those frustrations from young teachers.
Of course, actual experience has always brought teachers, or any other professionals, into unanticipated and unrehearsed-for circumstances. But today teachers face a host of newer challenges – including understanding, interpreting and using student data – that teacher education programs haven’t caught up with. If we judge teachers on student achievement, they should be trained in the interpretation and use of the data that surround it.
This is one of the most obvious areas where teacher education is getting a good, hard look as Mississippi works to update how it educates its educators. Another is subject area content. With the state moving to the new Common Core Curriculum, which will be much more demanding of students and teachers in demonstrating mastery of subject-area knowledge, the old idea that knowing how to teach is more important than expertise in what you teach is obsolete. Effective teachers must be both empathetic connectors with students and intellectually capable. Good teachers have always had these qualities, but accelerating rigor will make intellectual capacity all the more important.
That’s why there’s such a push on now to elevate the attractiveness of majoring in education for the brightest Mississippi students. Creating more selective programs, such as the collaborative honors college-type approach to teacher education announced recently by Mississippi State and the University of Mississippi, can help raise the prestige level at least closer to that of other, more lucrative professions. But a big part of attracting and holding on to the best teachers is raising the financial rewards, meaning a commitment to moving teacher pay up more quickly than our state has demonstrated the resolve to do.
Mississippi has to make updating and upgrading teacher education, attracting more higher-achieving students into the profession and paying them better when they get there the highest of education priorities. There is nothing in education that matters more than the teachers we put in our classrooms.