Teachers educate the next generation and therefore impact society as a whole. They also, through safeguarding and pastoral care, help the next generation develop into well rounded, caring, ethical, young adults. Young adults who, themselves influence those around them.
We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build the youth for our future.Franklin D. Roosevelt
To look at the words of Roosevelt above, never in recent years have we as a society found ourselves in a situation where we are so desperate for hope – a light at the end of a dark and dangerous tunnel, and a tunnel that we are all in together around the globe.
Schools have been at the forefront of discussions and arguments throughout the pandemic – but why?
Why are teachers so beneficial to society?
Why Do People Want to Become Teachers?
People wand to become teachers because they want to make a difference. This comes from an inbuilt sense of altruism that could be based on their own prior positive (or negative) school experience. They are often highly empathic and selfless. Often teachers describe being “drawn” to teach; they feel compelled to help young people.
I work primarily in Initial Teacher Education: this year, applications to train for Qualified Teacher Status have, according to UCAS statistics, gone up by nearly 20%. People want to become teachers.
Teaching is often derided as a profession; people equate the workload of the teacher with that of the student and assume that working days are 9 – 3 and all 13 weeks of allocated holiday a year are spent relaxing; not so.
This is not a piece designed to bust those myths or to present teachers as modern martyrs but more to address the qualities and beauties of the profession – a love letter to why teachers are so important, and why they must be supported at all stages to continually improve.
We all had teachers; we all were taught; we all got ‘grades’ of some sort that, largely, have enabled us to make choices in later life.
Schooling is one of life’s few constants.
To paraphrase Goodfellas (as an echo of what I hear at the start of most of the interviews I conduct) – ‘Ever since I was little I always wanted to be a teacher…’.
What Positive Impact Do Teachers Have On Students?
Statistics gathered last year by the NCES gave us the following:
- The average teacher will affect over 3000 students during their career
- 54% of students say a teacher has helped them overcome a difficult situation in their lives
- 88% report that a teacher has had a positive effect on them
- 75% of students see teachers as mentors and role models
- 83% of students say teachers have boosted their confidence and self-esteem
Now, statistics are wonderfully malleable but they have to be drawn from somewhere.
Teachers and teaching are largely held in high regard by those who are affected by them; however, we are looking here at the extrapolation from the classroom to society as a whole.
But then again, is a school not a microcosm of the wider society it represents?
There is variety, diversity, mixed ability, laughter, tears, achievement, failure, inspiration, opportunity, hope, relationships, interactions – all played out every day; our school years form us.
Why Are Teachers Beneficial to Society?
Apart from the fact that they provide instructional delivery to students from early years right through to Adult education, they are role models, touchstones, influencers and inspirers.
I suppose we can look at the wording of the statement.
Beneficial implies they bring more than perhaps is expected; I’d agree with that.
However, the expectation is often clouded by inaccuracy or lack of the full picture; as Asimov famously said, “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge!”
The preamble to the UK Teacher Standards states that teachers ‘act with honesty and integrity’ and are accountable for ‘achieving the highest possible standards in work and conduct’.
The standards are a guide to professional behavior but also a reminder fo responsibility; if you are unfamiliar with them please take a look at the onus placed on those ‘in loco parentis’ to ‘uphold public trust’, and ‘maintain high standards of ethics and behavior’ both inside and outside school.
Teachers are given Safeguarding training, understand Pastoral care, have subject knowledge and need to be able to manage the delivery of content in a way that enables others to learn it – great qualities.
For years thinkers and educators have sought answers and definitions regarding the impact of teaching:
Buber saw the teacher as the ‘community builder’, playing a fundamental role in the character formation of individuals.
Freire took this further in his excellent ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, arguing that education was in essence political, teachers, therefore, wielding immense socio-political power; teachers educate the next generation and therefore influence the future of society as a whole.
That’s quite a mantle to bear.
Politicians, activists, intellectuals and influencers can all be found quoting with regards to the power of education and the way it can change the world.
Teachers therefore play a fundamental role in enabling our ability to read, write, communicate, analyze, think critically and understand ethics – again, quite a role.
What Makes an Effective Teacher?
An effective teacher who is one, who through grit, passion and empathy act as a rolemodel for young people. They also have the ability to take previously unknown concepts and ideas and translate them, not only into a language their students understand but give them the context in which they are relevant.
Through their trained approach to the imparting of knowledge to the next generation teachers simplify the complicated, the complex; they make the abstract ‘concrete’.
They act as an acculturator for those for whom doors might often be shut or – worse still – hidden; they expose students to thoughts and ideas they might not have otherwise come into contact with.
Teachers, therefore, benefit society by enabling acquisition of capital – social, emotional, cultural capital – that might otherwise have gone unacquired.
There is a wealth of anecdote, research and thought that has gone into defining effective teaching in the classroom – that’s a piece for another time.
According to research conducted by Duckworth et al (2009), effective teachers also possess certain personality traits and qualities that spread beyond that of simple teaching.
They have ‘grit’ and passion, they have optimism, they have the ability to ‘bounce back’ – all things that they then impart to their students.
The authors of the study also note that ‘teachers higher in life satisfaction may be more adept at engaging their pupils, and their zest and enthusiasm may spread’; again, this becomes infectious and manifests itself in the wider community as well as the classroom.
Teachers must maintain a healthy scepticism too, but never be cynical – cynicism lacks all hope, and to return to Freire, hope is essential to formative dialogue and critical thinking.
What Is the Power of Education?
Education is the foundation upon which we build a society, without it society falls down, there is no informed leadership in the next generation, no role models for children to look up to and now development of new ideas to move society forward. Without education, we have no society.
Education is acknowledged to have transformative power; that power is therefore wielded by the educationalists, those that turn the intent into impact through implementation – teachers and school leaders; pastoral staff; safeguarding officers.
Where children went hungry over the pandemic, schools were the center of the rescue – breakfast clubs, campaigns for Food Bank support, delivered packed lunches, Free School Meal vouchers.
The ASCL Ethical Leadership framework really highlights those personality traits and aspects that teachers strive for: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership.
These are underpinned by trust, wisdom, kindness, justice, service, courage and optimism.
To quote the report directly:
‘Schools and colleges serve children and young people and help them grow into fulfilled and valued citizens. As role models for the young, how we behave as leaders is as important as what we do.’
Teachers must not only be recruited but well-trained and highly supported – their impact on students is clear.
In their 2018 report, the EPI recommended that:
‘the need for a coherent, long-term strategy focusing on retention and development of the teaching workforce, particularly in schools serving disadvantaged communities, is clear.’
Retain great teachers and students make more progress; to retain, value – research from Kraft & Papay (among others) suggests strongly that a supportive working environment is a core indicator of teacher retention and therefore consistency and quality.
If teachers feel valued, they will stay; if they stay, they will get better. If they get better, so do the outcomes, and the outcomes spill out into the communities the schools themselves serve.
In the introduction to the CUP ‘Transforming Societies Through Education’ report the Right Hon. Charles Clarke (himself an ex-teacher) makes two key statements, both of which resonate:
- ‘The two most important educational relationships any child will ever have are those with their parents and family, and those with their teachers.’
- ‘Brilliant, challenging and forward-looking teachers are the greatest asset any government can have in promoting educational reform and improvement in their country.’
In the latter Clarke is almost channeling Freire again, placing politics alongside teaching and giving it leverage from a governmental level.
Clarke goes on to emphasize the importance of quality teachers:
‘It means picking the right people to be teachers, and training them to have the capacity to teach all children, with all kinds of capacities, so that those children can fulfill themselves to the very best of their abilities’.
Notice how, always, the focus is on the outcomes for children/students/pupils, whatever we call them; the next generation.
Teachers are always looking ahead:
‘the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’.
What are teachers accountable for?
Teachers are accountable for their own continued development, they strive not only to be good teachers, they strive to be the best teacher they can be. If teachers are showing this quality to their students, they are modelling the behavior of a successful next generation of adults.
However, teachers must be held responsible also for their own quality, their own efficacy and development; it is not enough to be a teacher, you must be the best teacher you can be.
Retention yes, but experience isn’t everything – Hattie (2003) tells us that:
“expert teachers do differ from experienced teachers – particularly on the way they represent their classrooms, the degree of challenges that they present to students, and most critically, in the depth of processing that their students attain”.
Hattie goes on to say:
“Students who are taught by expert teachers exhibit an understanding of the concepts targeted in instruction that is more integrated, more coherent, and at a higher level of abstraction than the understanding achieved by other students”.
This is worth bearing in mind; Berliner (2004) reminds us also that it takes 5 – 7 years to achieve expertise in teaching, with competence coming only a couple of years before that if it is accompanied by hard work.
This hard-working attitude that effective teachers have can pay dividends; research by Rattan et al (2012) found that teachers with the fabled ‘growth-mindset’ were more likely to enforce strategic approaches to improvement in outcomes for students, as opposed to simply offering platitudes – the focus on ‘what’, the ‘doing’, was what mattered.
Teachers’ mindsets shape their teaching, their pedagogy, and this in turn shapes the actions and approaches of the students they teach.
As far back as 1966 Rosenthal and Jacobson found, through their famous Pygmalion study, that ‘when teachers expected that certain children would show greater intellectual development, those children did show greater intellectual development’.
No one rises to low expectations, and rising tides float all ships. Just look at the famous Austin’s Butterflies sequence and the work of Ron Berger on creating an ‘ethic of excellence’; if teachers are influential they must influence appropriately!
Heed the words of Haim Ginott (1972):
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
One aspect of teacher-student interaction is that of giving and receiving feedback; through their schooling, students learn first hand the power and the importance of feedback in making better decisions, but also how to deal with setbacks.
Teachers again have the duty to ensure that feedback is given in a timely, formative and sensible way; Burnett (1999) found that more frequent positive statements by teachers were directly related to students talking more positively to themselves, and viewing themselves as good learners.
Negative interactions (as also considered by Rattan, above) led to negative self-perceptions and longer-lasting effects of this; the influence of the teacher and their role as a force for good cannot be underestimated.
So, Why Do Teachers Matter?
To quote Alison Peacock in her open letter from 2018:
“There can be no doubt that teachers transform lives. Thank you for making the decision to become a teacher – you are part of the future for our children and young people.”
Quality teaching improves the life chances of all students; teachers matter; teachers are of benefit to society. education as a whole
How Does Education in General Benefit Society?
Education is a crucial component in providing economic benefits to society. Tyler Butler of 11Eleven Consulting sees the value of education from the perspective of how it helps entire communities. She gives us her thoughts below.
Educators are coming to understand that educational outcomes, primarily differences in educational outcomes, are a result of students’ experiences outside of the classroom as much as within it.
They understand that their work with students necessitates a more complete consideration of place. Things such as where kids live, and who or what is nearby also follow them to school and impacts their experience and ability to succeed.
Having an educated and able workforce serving a community can only lead to improved schools.
With elevated education comes citizens who are equipped to be contributing members to communities.
Specific benefits can be seen through increased employment and earning potential that in turn helps to create a more stable economy and flourishing populations.
The improved economic security afforded to individuals who are educated facilitates an increased earning potential, which then allows them to aid others and support causes, including schools who are in need of more support.
Additionally, there is significant research that points to education as a key component in improved health. Well educated adults are also more likely to vaccinate their children and have regular exams themselves.
The most overlooked attribute to having an education might be the link to greater mental health, happiness and trust. Because of the positive correlations to contributing to society and having better health they are more likely to live longer and happier lives.
Yes; they are trained, ethical professionals who act as role models for younger generations and are proven to have a significant impact on the future success and happiness of students.
Teachers are essentially the conduit through which knowledge is imparted across a range of subjects to all children – education is a right.
Teachers are vital to the education and development of the younger generations; the profession is always in need of high quality, reflective teachers who want to give something back.