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Editorial: Respecting a profession

The best thing to come out of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education’s recent retreat was a focus on improving the treatment of teachers. The public should make sure board members stay on task.

In one session during the Chapel Hill retreat, the school board heard from the University of North Carolina’s new dean of education, Fouad And-El-Khalick. Board member Dean Hunter said the point that really stuck with him was the assertion that “we’ve taken the professional out of the profession.” In other words, teachers are not being treated as professionals.

It’s no wonder that recruiting and retaining teachers poses a perpetual challenge. Educators face tremendous pressure to raise student achievement, satisfy parents and fulfill their bosses’ expectations — from the principal’s office to the state legislature. A person has to be devoted to his or her profession to stick with it under those conditions.

So who is a professional? Howard Gardner, a professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, once offered this definition: “A professional is a certified expert who is afforded prestige and autonomy in return for performing at a high level, which includes making complex and disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty.”

Hunter had one simple suggestion — as a start, not a cure-all — strike the requirement that certified teachers sign in and out at work each day. Teachers would still be expected to get to class on time, work through the day and complete all their duties. They just would not have to check in and out like hourly workers.

Unfortunately, concern about the few who might abuse the policy overcame the benefit it would yield for the majority. That’s often the case. But the board should revisit the suggestion and expand on it. What can the school board and the rest of us do to raise the treatment of teachers to a higher level?

Better pay comes to mind first, but just as important may be having a voice in decisions that affect their jobs. To that point, board member Susan Cox made an insightful suggestion: Get input from teachers.

Hunter’s suggestion was put aside for the time being; the superintendent is going to have her staff develop a proposal. Tread carefully there. Having their concerns filtered by agenda-minded administrators may be part of the problem. Let teachers have their say; that would be an important step toward treating educators as professionals.

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