10/11/2011 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 11, 2011

In Defense of the American Teacher

I attend a public school in California and the horror stories you hear are indeed, true. Photocopies and scantrons are scarcities, when it rains the roofs mildew and fall apart, and we took a week-long vacation last year to celebrate the fact that the school district could not pay its teachers. And sadly, teachers at my school and schools all across the United States face long hours, grueling work, and most disappointingly -- disrespectful students.

In the United States, teaching has one of the highest turnover rates for any profession, meaning that more teachers quit every year compared to other professions. This, according to the Alliance of Excellent Education, is costing our state governments an average of $4.5 billion yearly. The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future reports that every year, 16 percent of all teachers quit, compared to the national average of 2.7 percent per profession.

You cannot blame them for leaving; teaching in a public school is tough. Students cheat, make excuses not to turn in homework, and fool around in class. My ninth grade world history teacher had a paper airplane thrown at his face during a lecture and could not give the student responsible more than a 20-minute detention.

The student's parents later complained about how the punishment given to their son was "too tough." My calculus teacher maintains a strict policy of not rounding grades that she espouses throughout the year. Yet, at the end of every semester, all the students with borderline grades come rushing in begging for a grade change. When she politely informs them of her policy (that all of them knew about), most students leave her room grumbling and she has a reputation for being a word beginning with a "B" -- and it's not "best friend."

Parents also come in on back-to-school night to yell at this same poor teacher for not rounding their child's grade up. I was afraid when I saw her name on my schedule but I quickly lost that fear when I realized she was the fairest teacher I had ever met. She stays until almost six every day, tutors any student who asks for help, and coaches the math team. In short, despite her long hours, her sacrifices, and her excellent teaching, students and parents disrespect her because she stands up for her beliefs and refuses to round up grades.

Teachers in other countries do not face the same problems. In China, being a teacher is an incredible honor. Every year during Chinese New Year, each child brings his or her teacher a present. My cousins do this every year and children compete to please their teachers the most. This behavior is not because all Chinese children have Tiger Moms but rather because the culture in China demands respect for elders and especially teachers. Education is highly valued, and Chinese students score the highest in the world on international standardized tests. I went back to China one summer to teach English in a summer program. My teacher was from Canada and he brought his motorcycle over when he moved. Every few months he would find the windshield on his motorcycle broken. But one day, he decided to paint his Chinese name and his teaching title on the windshield. From that day on, his motorcycle remained unharmed, protected by respect for his status as a teacher. BBC reports that Finnish students consistently top international tests. In Finland, teaching is considered one of the best professions. Finnish teachers are paid as much as white-collar workers and in order to be a teacher, one must attend a special teaching college that only accepts the best high school seniors. In America, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a median salary of between $47,100 to $51,180. This is much lower than the average white-collar job in America, making teaching an undesirable profession for the top college graduates.

It is high time for American students to open their eyes and look around the world at how other cultures are treating teachers. We do not respect some of the most important people in our society, demeaning them with statements like "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach," and "Teachers are merely glorified babysitters." How about you take on a teaching job, deal with a packed classroom of 35 students, have a boy throw a paper airplane at your face, and face the rage of a charging Tiger Mom first, then complain about your teachers.