The U.S. has some of the best schools in the world; it’s also one of the richest countries but when it comes to teacher pay as well as teaching programs, research suggests that the teacher preparation programs aren’t rigorous enough and may be too easy to produce the quality teachers that the U.S. needs to compete.
Research shows that when teachers are paid better, student outcome is better. In a McKinsey Global Institute Analysis, teachers in countries like France, Sweden and Finland had higher teacher salaries relative to those with a college education than global average while the U.S. is in the bottom third. In those top ranking countries, teaching is a selective profession where the best and the brightest get admitted into teaching programs. There’s a lot of prestige and respect that goes with becoming a teacher in addition to ongoing training and professional support. In the U.S. there seem to be a lot of obstacles such as high interest loans that get in the way of attracting more teachers at all levels of education. What a teacher brings home each month in too many cases barely covers their living expenses much less student loans repayments.
Finland is one of the top countries in the world for education and many other countries, including the U.S. have visited the country to see learn the secrets of their success. While there were a lot of pieces of their system that could be duplicated there are a few that may take more time. First and foremost, poverty is virtually absent from the Nordic country. In fact school lunches and colleges are free. Students come to school healthy, sharp, ready to learn and by the end of their first year of school, all students are literate. Students are also fluent in at least two or three languages and the degree of respect for and trust of teachers is immense. Depending on the grades taught, the steps to becoming a teacher vary but they all start with having at least a Master’s degree.
Finland is just one example of how one country got education right but even among the top countries, there are a few common threads that the U.S. can learn from:
- Accepting only the top candidates – In the U.S. the teaching programs are not selective. Teaching is seen as a “those who cannot do” throw away career instead of an important piece of the country’s overall success
- Provide incentives for teachers throughout – Teachers in Finland don’t get paid as much as the U.S. but they do get more pay increases over the course of their professions. They also provide the resources teachers need to keep learning and become better teachers without significant financial burdens.
- Students get help – Students are given the support they need to make sure they don’t fall behind. Teachers get to know their students so they can get the encouragement and support throughout school.
At the end of the day it boils down to this: If you want the best out of students, you need to find the best teachers.