Traverse City Record-Eagle

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November 9, 2013

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No school factor — not budget, not class size, not curriculum — is more important to a child’s experience in the classroom than the teacher, but that’s not how we treat teachers in the United States, and it shows.

About 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of starting their careers — 46 percent according to a 2003 study by University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll — more than any other profession.

The reason? Generally, it’s the working conditions, compounded by the fact that the job — arguably the most important job for ensuring the well-being of our children and the long-term health of our democracy — barely pays the bills.

It’s perhaps the ultimate manifestation of decades of public policy-making that is hostile to public education, and to some degree it hurts all of us. But like all bad public policy, it hurts some more than others.

In today’s report, “Color blind in the classroom,” reporter Justin Hinkley offers a prime example.

“Across the area, across the state and across the country, teaching staffs do not reflect the growing diversity of public school classrooms. While 20 percent of area students are of color, just 3 percent of local teachers are. Male teachers of color are especially lacking, with women teachers outnumbering men three-to-one.”

Some readers may ask themselves, “So what? What do ethnicity and gender have to do with the quality of classroom instruction?” If the only factors to consider were academic credentials or instructional competency, the answer may be little to nothing, but classrooms and schools aren’t laboratories, they are human communities that must manage and overcome human frailties in a complex and often emotional setting in which kids are not always at their best.

In a multicultural classroom, diversity matters. A lot.

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