One of my life experiences I am proud of is having had the opportunity to teach middle school students in a public school. President Obama is following the footsteps of George W. Bush to improve the failing public school system of America by holding teachers and schools accountable. No Child Left Behind, initiated by Bush, absurdly requires 100 percent of American students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Not only is this impossible, but it is wrong to pressure teachers and schools to produce such a miraculous result. Of course, the idea is to challenge teachers to accept no defeat. But heart of the problem goes deeper than simple attitude improvement.
Yes, there are good teachers and bad teachers. But fundamental problem is American culture itself. Americans don’t take education seriously. There is hardly any appreciation of education. I object to the idea of pressuring teachers when the main problem rises from a culture that does not support education.
Education happens when students have vision and discipline. Many “bad” students come from homes where parental discipline is lacking. It is simple as that and there is a limitation as to how much teachers can do. In Hull Middle School where I taught, teachers had to come early or stay late to give extra lessons for failing students. Some teachers even used lunch time to give extra help. Even with that kind of effort, some students just don’t improve much. Teachers are definitely important, but parents play much more crucial role in determining the success and failure of a student.
Next problem lies with teacher’s union, which protects so called bad teachers to keep their jobs. My state has virtually no teacher’s union so it has been saved from the ill effects of corruption. But I have spoken with teachers from states where teacher’s union is an indestructible force. Yes, teachers should be protected like any other professions. But there is a clear problem when states like New York cannot discipline hundreds of teachers who are accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct. Yeah, that’s right. Sexual misconduct and they still keep their job. If I lived in New York, you can bet that I will NOT send my precious little daughter to a public school.
Finally, if Americans are serious about education, we would raise teacher’s pay level. One of my students once said, “Mr. Hong, you inspired me to become a teacher when I grow up.” When he grows up and finds out how much teachers make, he will most likely not pursue that vision. Keep in mind that this was a male student, and money is a highly motivating factor for many men. Many teachers became teachers simply because they want to teach. But there are many people who choose to skip this influential profession because it just does not pay enough. Higher pay level will attract more talented and dedicated people to pursue the career of teaching in public school system. Higher competition will naturally weed out bad teachers. Money talks. It really does. Americans pay millions of dollars to movie stars, athletes, and doctors because we are serious about entertainment and health. Americans in general do not consider teaching as a “real job”. Until teaching becomes an enviable profession in this country, 100 percent of American students will not become proficient in EDUCATION.
In reality, teachers will never get paid much. BUT in countries like Korea, teachers are respected. The society as a whole revere teachers. There is a cultural homage paid to teachers and it is felt everywhere you go.
Just in case Mr. Obama is reading my blog, I came up with a name for a new government program. No Teacher Left Disrespected.