Give teach­ing the re­spect it’s due

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Roger N. Casey Roger N. Casey is pres­i­dent of McDaniel Col­lege; he may be reached at rcasey@mcdaniel.edu.

Mark Twain be­lieved the two most im­por­tant days in your life are the day you are born and the day you fig­ure out why. I was born in ru­ral South Carolina, the son of an auto me­chanic and a home­maker. Thanks to great teach­ers and much-needed schol­ar­ships, I was the first mem­ber of my fam­ily to at­tend col­lege — and it rad­i­cally changed my life. Through the lib­eral arts, I delved into sub­jects I didn’t know ex­isted. I stud­ied in other coun­tries and de­vel­oped a pro­found sense of the im­por­tance of diver­sity. Most of all, I fig­ured out “the why” of my life: I was born to teach.

Even now, as pres­i­dent of McDaniel Col­lege in West­min­ster, I am proud to say I am first and fore­most a teacher. Un­for­tu­nately though, teach­ing today — es­pe­cially teach­ing pre-K through 12th grades — is not al­ways viewed as a lofty ca­reer goal. Ac­cord­ing to UCLA’s an­nual sur­vey of stu­dents en­ter­ing col­lege, the num­ber of those with an in­ter­est in teach­ing is at its low­est per­cent­age in the past 45 years: less than 5 per­cent.

Michelle Shearer, a for­mer na­tional teacher of the year, re­calls that as a high-achiev­ing chem­istry ma­jor at an Ivy League univer­sity, she was pres­sured to be­come “some­thing more.” De­spite this, Ms. Shearer, who earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in deaf ed­u­ca­tion from McDaniel, be­came a high school chem­istry teacher. As a teacher, she en­gages stu­dents who have been tra­di­tion­ally un­der­rep­re­sented in sci­en­tific fields, in­clud­ing stu­dents of color, women and those with spe­cial needs. She even taught Ad­vanced Place­ment chem­istry in Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage at the Mary­land School for the Deaf for the first time in the school’s history.

Our coun­try needs more skilled, ded­i­cated teach­ers like Michelle. Dur­ing this year’s Amer­i­can Ed­u­ca­tion Week, I pro­pose we re­solve to find new and bet­ter ways to re­de­fine the teach­ing pro­fes­sion as one that is as­pi­ra­tional for our best and bright­est. One way we can do this is through com­pen­sa­tion — not just by rais­ing teach­ers’ salaries, but by of­fer­ing more in­cen­tives to en­tice stu­dents into teach­ing in the first place.

For ex­am­ple, McDaniel Col­lege re­cently launched Teach­ers for To­mor­row, or T4T, a part­ner­ship with Howard County Pub­lic Schools in Mary­land. Be­lieved to be the first pub­lic-pri­vate pro­gram of its kind, T4T pro­vides full schol­ar­ships, in­clud­ing tu­ition, room and board, for up to12 Howard County stu­dents per year, or 48 to­tal, to at­tend McDaniel in ex­change for their com­mit­ment to work for the school sys­tem for three years im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing col­lege grad­u­a­tion. T4T was de­signed to in­crease the diver­sity among Howard County’s teach­ers while pro­vid­ing col­lege ac­cess to high-achiev­ing aca­dem­i­cally tal­ented stu­dents with limited fi­nan­cial resources.

Another way McDaniel shows a com­mit­ment to teach­ers is through our $100,000 Ed­u­ca­tor’s Legacy Schol­ar­ship. Ev­ery high school se­nior ac­cepted to McDaniel with a par­ent or guardian who works in K-12 ed­u­ca­tion qual­i­fies for $25,000 per year for each of their four years. This schol­ar­ship also ex­tends to the chil­dren of any­one who works in a school: coun­selors, nurses, sup­port staff, ad­min­is­tra­tors. We cre­ated this schol­ar­ship to rec­og­nize the con­tri­bu­tions of ed­u­ca­tors and to make sure that mid­dle­class fam­i­lies can af­ford a high-qual­ity lib­eral-arts ed­u­ca­tion. This fall, we wel­comed 56 re­cip­i­ents of the Ed­u­ca­tor’s Legacy Schol­ar­ship into the Class of 2020. They can ma­jor in any sub­ject of their choos­ing, but, of course, we’d love it if they too be­came teach­ers.

Teach­ing is much more than a job; it’s a re­ward­ing vo­ca­tion. The world’s need for well-trained, tal­ented, pas­sion­ate teach­ers runs deep. So the next time you hear a young per­son ex­press a de­sire to teach, I hope you will be both im­pressed and en­cour­ag­ing. And I hope that when Amer­i­can Ed­u­ca­tion Week rolls around next year, more in­no­va­tive pro­grams will be in place to re­cruit and re­ward those bright minds who have cho­sen to do “some­thing more” — by de­cid­ing to teach.

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