Since the turn of the 20th century — and certainly since the Cold War — the United States has consistently sought to improve the intelligence and productivity of the masses through public education. Yet, time and again, politicians and educators, as well as children and parents, attest that schools are falling short of education goals and that more must be done to improve outcomes for all students.
Teachers are often blamed for the poor performance in classrooms, but in truth, there is little the average teacher can do to influence the efficacy of the education system as a whole. All but confined to classrooms, teachers have little control over the resources allocated to them, let alone their schools or districts, and teachers are often restricted in what information they can convey and when or how they can convey it. Worst of all, teachers are evaluated not on the lifelong success and satisfaction of their students but on standardized exam scores, which are notoriously flawed at evaluating even the subject they are testing.
Still, many teachers are eager to make a positive impact on the American education system and demonstrate that U.S. students can be the best in the world. But — how?
Despite being an institution almost as old as the pyramids, education is not fully understood by those responsible for organizing it. The process of learning is exceedingly complex, and that complexity is compounded by the fact that seemingly small details can have profound impacts on how an individual learns. There is so much data surrounding the effectiveness and efficiency of education, and much of that data has yet to be studied in a meaningful capacity.
Thus, teachers eager to improve and even perfect the education system might return to school themselves to study the institution of education in a more concerted way. Enrolling in a program for a PhD in Education will give teachers more access to the latest and greatest education strategies, and it can provide teachers with opportunities to engage in research that will provide radical and revolutionary insights into ways to improve the education system as a whole.
Assume Administrative Responsibility
Many of the decisions that affect how the classroom looks and functions are made by school administrators. Building-level administrators, like principals and their assistants, as well as district-level administrators, like superintendents and directors, have the difficult task of allocating state and federal funding, determining curricula, hiring and firing staff, developing transportation programs and more. Alongside the heightened responsibility, school administrators also enjoy higher pay than teachers and more perks, like private offices and limited working hours.
To many outside the education system, it makes sense that teachers would eventually become interested in working in administration after they spend some amount of time in the classroom — but the transition from teaching roles to administrative ones is much less common than expected. Many teachers do not relish the heightened responsibility of positions in administration, and most teachers are loath to end their routine contact with students, which is largely why they entered the profession in the first place.
Still, teachers who are eager for more authority within the education system need to find ways to increase their administrative responsibility. Schools might devise ways to allow administrators more contact with the student body, perhaps as club directors or substitutes, to entice experienced and passionate teachers into administrative roles.
Become Policy Makers
Finally, teachers who are supremely frustrated by the current state of the education system might be willing to leave the industry in pursuit of the best opportunity to effect change: becoming lawmakers. Legislatures draft the bills that determine so much of how schools can function, from the annual funding they receive to the subjects they are permitted to teach. The more local and state congresses are filled with experienced teachers, the more proactive they are likely to be at addressing issues that hinder the effectiveness of teachers and schools.
Of course, while policy makers can influence the education system, they have even less contact with students than school administrators do. Thus, this career move is best reserved for the teacher who is truly disillusioned with the education system and eager for a new role with completely new responsibilities — and potentially even lower pay.
Teachers have exceedingly limited authority in the education system — much to their own chagrin. There are ways for teachers to have more impact on how American classrooms are run, but doing so tends to require major disruption to their own careers. Thus, teachers must make a difficult choice: remain in a classroom that functions frustratingly poorly or leave the profession they love in the hopes of improving it.