It’s virtually impossible to put a price tag on a quality education. Ask anyone who has ever been truly inspired by a great educator and that person will likely tell you the experience is one that changed his or her life forever. But a child should not have to rely on luck to have such an experience with a teacher. All children should have an opportunity to learn from teachers, who truly care about igniting a passion for learning in their students. Sadly, it seems that too many of our children do not have access to true, professional educators like we did 50 years ago.

I entered elementary school in the late 1950s. At that time, the African American community viewed education as the best way out of poverty and a chance to achieve the American dream. Since professional career opportunities for educated African Americans were very limited, many of the best and brightest became teachers.

Teachers were scholars, and they were revered. There were no reports of teachers being confronted by hostile parents or disrespectful students. We felt honored to have a teacher take an interest in us. Teachers also seemed to earn salaries that enabled them to live a little more comfortably than others who were struggling in the community.

Today, in the United States, teaching seems to have lost its revered place among the professions. Modest teacher salaries do not attract the most qualified college graduates, many of whom may be graduating with considerable debt.
To improve the retention rates of teachers and encourage the brightest college students to become teachers, we must take steps to restore teaching to an honored profession in American society. Teacher salaries must be set at a level that will attract the best candidates, with bonuses based on performance. Teachers must be given clear student achievement goals and adequate tools to reach those goals. As professionals who deserve our respect, teachers must be trusted to know best how to reach their students and be given the flexibility to design course curricula to meet the needs of their students. The days of “teaching to the test” or using “one-size-fits-all” curricula need to end.

If we want to attract and retain the best teachers, we must emphasize the importance of education and elevate the teaching profession. We must make the necessary financial investments and encourage creativity and innovation in our schools.