From former Florida Commissioner of Education and former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Supt. Eric Smith:
Concerns about the lackluster performance of K-12 education in America have spawned extraordinary efforts to find the silver bullet that will significantly raise student achievement in the United States on national and international achievement measures. Of course, as most now know, there is no one silver bullet that will change outcomes for our children.
However, in my 42 years in education in North Carolina and beyond, I did notice one constant ingredient necessary to achieve desired outcomes: having a great teacher in the classroom. Various strategies can increase a great teacher’s opportunity for success, and some strategies can minimize the damage that can be done by a poor teacher. But the lynchpin is finding and retaining great teachers.
Many of us can say we have had a teacher that is one of the best. The teacher who changed your attitude about a subject, who challenged you to accomplish things you thought were impossible, who helped you grow in confidence because of your achievement. These teachers need to be teaching our most capable students, our students in the middle, and definitely, our students who are underachieving. They need to be found in our city school districts, in our rural areas, in our high performing schools and in our historically low performing schools.
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Although strong content knowledge and demonstrated high performance are critical, these game-changing teachers bring to the classroom a talent and passion that goes beyond college degrees and experience. Unfortunately, too often these teachers leave the profession within the first five years, or are not often enough assigned to the lowest performing schools. Teachers are the key – great teachers, teams of great teachers, not just in some schools but in all schools, teaching all types of students.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s career pathways proposal is a move in the right direction. It will build on the state’s recent groundbreaking history in pursuing educational excellence. It recognizes that the strength of North Carolina schools is going to come from the teachers in the classrooms today and those recruited for the classrooms of tomorrow.
Two key issues – lack of career development and few merit-based opportunities to increase pay while remaining in the classroom – often result in not only the loss of existing high-quality teachers, but also turn away many potential great teachers from ever pursuing an opportunity to positively impact students’ lives in the first place. Gov. McCrory’s vision addresses both these issues, and does it in a way that allows districts to create pathways that work best for their local challenges. In addition to recognizing the great teachers that are currently changing the trajectory for students – and providing the financial incentive for more capable teachers to enter the profession and stay – the plan also incentivizes great teachers to work in the most difficult schools and teach the most demanding subjects.
Once again, North Carolina has an opportunity to lead. An opportunity to lead with the recognition of the unique importance of recruiting, retaining and rewarding the best of the best to join this great profession and make a difference.