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In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week: Let's Show Our Thanks to Teachers by Elevating the Profession

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You remember them well. Maybe they had just the right way of introducing algebra or convincing you that poetry was cool. Maybe they quietly found a way to help with a sticky peer problem.

This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week, and across the country children will bring hand-drawn cards and maybe even a nostalgic apple to their favorite teachers.

Kids are great judges when it comes to weighing in on educators charged with teaching them. A study by Harvard University professor Thomas Kane found that student evaluations were good predictors of teacher success. As adults, however, we have to do better when it comes to fairly evaluating the nation's teachers, and fairly compensating them.

Most teachers are evaluated inconsistently, going without the feedback and professional development that can help them excel. The need for change is basic and glaring, and that's why StudentsFirst is urging states and districts to replace outdated, weak evaluation systems with rigorous ones that can strengthen the profession.

Good evaluations must be accompanied with good pay. The average teacher salary in the United States is estimated to be around $55,000. Surely your favorite teacher is worth more than that. What's more, teachers tend to earn minimal increases in lockstep with each other and without regard to how well they are actually doing. Excellence goes unrewarded. We should instead value teachers by better compensating them for helping kids make gains and for teaching hard-to-staff subjects in hard-to-staff schools.

It's difficult for me to pick just one teacher to say thank you to this week. I've met so many great educators as a one-time student, a mom to school-aged kids, and as a teacher and administrator. But Eric Bethel is among those who stand out from my time as chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school system. Eric, who taught at a high-poverty elementary school for eight years, loved working with his students but left the classroom somewhat reluctantly this year to help evaluate and mentor other teachers.

Why Eric was tapped for this new role is pretty clear. Last year about a third of the fifth graders who arrived in his class at the start of the year were proficient in math. But by the end of the year, about three-fourths of Eric's students were working at that level or beyond. Eric worked so hard to achieve that success. He often tutored kids before school started and spent hours working with other teachers to learn from their experiences and perfect his lessons.

Sadly some highly successful teachers, maybe even those who perform as well as Eric, are facing the possibility of losing their jobs this year due to the economic downturn. It's estimated that more than 160,000 teachers will be laid off due to the budget crunch. In most districts, these decisions will be made based on seniority, not effectiveness. That means a favorite teacher could be forced out simply because she isn't as senior as some of her colleagues. If we truly value our teachers, we should replace outdated personnel rules with fairer, more sensible ones.

Bringing about change is rarely easy, but it's certainly worth pursuing. I can't think of a better way to show my support for the terrific teachers who shaped my life and experiences.

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