3 Ways to Help Teachers Flourish in the Classroom

Year after year, we see teachers striking around the country – West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and now Los Angeles, where tens of thousands walked out of the classroom to protest their large class sizes, low salaries, and lack of supporting staff. Right here in Florida, there continues to be a teacher shortage impacting the quality and effectiveness of education students are receiving in the classroom.

No one challenges the point that teachers should get paid more, but no one is willing to act to make it so, no one is willing to put the “money where the mouth is– not the national, state, and local representatives. Yet, we want all students to succeed, not one to be left behind. How can this be, when teachers themselves are constantly left behind with limited power to influence their own professional growth and economic security? What quality of education do you think students will get when teachers cannot pay the bills at home? When they have to work second jobs?

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So, teachers leave the field and too many classrooms have to settle for what they can get, a body in the classroom with hardly any experience on the subject, classroom management, lesson planning, and how students learn. On the national level, schools have lost over 100,000 teachers and supporting personnel while the number of students increased by over one million. Despite the lack of adequate compensation for what they do, teachers leave the classroom for other compounding reasons such as lack of personal growth opportunities, collaboration with other teachers, and the stressful classroom environment.

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For teachers to flourish in the classroom, these things have to be addressed:

  1. Treat them with dignity and show them respect – I do not know when the teaching profession gained the negative perception that it now has. Perhaps, it has to do with all the teacher strikes over the years or the recent public classroom videos on teacher and student conflicts. It might also be the myriad of school shootings that took the lives of many students, teachers, and staff. Why do people automatically feel sorry for and pity a person who is a teacher? “Bless your heart,” “You poor soul,” or “I would not want to be in your shoes.” These are some of the most common ways people respond to a teacher. To help teachers flourish in the classroom and in the teaching profession, they must be treated with dignity and respect. Their work is a worthy one and it should be treated as such.
  2. Give them opportunities to grow professionally – teacher growth and the education system seems to be a great paradox. The science, English, math, social study, music, art, business teacher should study at the highest level. Teachers should be experts in their fields and when they are compensated for their expertise, that would revolutionize the education system. The education system must encourage teachers to be experts in their respective fields to increase the quality of education that students are receiving. What we see in the classroom oftentimes, are teachers who do not study the subject they teach and may take years on their own, if they are motivated to be an effective teacher. To flourish, teachers must have opportunities not only to participate in formal education but also non-formal education such as teacher collaborations, workshops and subject-specific conferences.
  3. Provide them a positive work environment – a negative, stressful, and conflicting work environment are at the core of why teachers leave the classroom. Yes, teachers deserve to get paid as well any doctor, but the reason they leave the classroom is not usually about salary. They leave because students are disrespectful and the classroom is often a war zone that even the school administration does not have an answer for. They leave because they teach too many classes and must take work home daily if assignments are to be graded. They leave because teaching is a stressful job that affects one’s overall health and what happens at home after work. For teachers to flourish, schools must provide a positive environment that supports the work they are doing in the classroom

Paying teachers what they deserve would be a great start not only to keep the ones already in the classroom, but also to attract potentially great ones. There must also be opportunities for them to become better every day at what they do, alongside a positive work environment that supports them to help students succeed not only in the classroom, but also in their life experiences.