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Voices: Ignore the haters: American teachers among most trusted in the world

In the second of a series on recruiting, training and supporting teachers, Donnell-Kay fellow Sarah Jenkins argues that American teachers are much more respected than many believe.

When I was still teaching, friends and family always wanted to hear my classroom stories. Whether I was describing gag-worthy situations common in first grade, examples of heartwarming kindness between children, or victories of incredible academic growth, I know many who never tire of listening to the challenges and joys of teaching. Encouragement from the people in my life helped me to maintain my enthusiasm, even on those Tuesdays that felt like they should be Fridays. In any area of life, the supporters and listeners give us energy.

Yet, haters still lurk around the corner, waiting to pounce. As a teacher, I was left speechless by comments like, “Your job is easy! Teachers only work seven hour days, nine months of the year.” Though generally few and far between, these comments occasionally led me to conclude that teachers do not garner the respect they deserve.

New research says that this conclusion is unwarranted. Last month, the 2013 Global Teacher Status Index was released, illuminating international trends in how teachers are perceived. The report describes the results of surveys given to over 1,000 people in each of 21 countries in order to determine the status of teachers in their respective countries. The survey included international comparisons of the perceptions of teachers against other professions, the average teacher salary, and the relation of teacher status to PISA and TIMMS scores.

Of the 21 countries surveyed, the United States ranked ninth in public perception of the status of teachers, behind emerging education super powers such as China and South Korea but ahead of the reform movement’s education poster child: Finland. Who would have thought?!

Let’s take a look at some of the other survey findings in the United States:

  • American’s trust for our teachers’ ability to deliver a good education is the 5th highest in the world.
  • American teachers are paid approximately $10,000 more per year than what survey respondents think, making America teachers the second highest paid in the world, behind only Singapore (salary comparisons are cost of living adjusted).
  • Nearly 80% of Americans surveyed support performance-based pay for teachers.
  • 75% of Americans surveyed would consider encouraging their children to become teachers.

I hope that teachers take this survey to heart, like me, and that we learn to ignore the haters who are working to manufacture an impression that teachers are not respected, usually in an effort to advance their own political or public policy goals. The conversation around respect becomes heated when evaluations and performance-related pay come up, but the Teacher Status Index suggests that wanting performance-based pay “may relate to the successful promotion of the educational system.” It is not a battle of teachers against the world. As educators we should ground ourselves in the reality that Americans can trust and respect their teachers and value performance evaluation at the same time.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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