Tag: teachers


As an afterthought to my previous post on economics, I wondered what–if I were in charge–I’d spend some of the extra revenue on; the extra revenue generated if the tax rate extension had not been passed. Paying down some of the national debt is important, but there is one investment that came to mind that I would focus on:


About the single most important resource we have is our teachers. How well-educated we are says a lot about our overall potential as people and as a nation. In disciplines like math and science we are in poor shape and getting worse and that saddens me because it is these disciplines that could be our salvation. But we prefer to invest our money in guns and bombs instead of investing in educating our youth to be smart enough to figure out how to live without the guns and bombs.

Teachers should be the highest paid profession where money comes from tax dollars. I’d place teachers ahead of all governing roles, including state and federal leaders, up-to-and-including the President, and it is to our bitter shame that we value teachers as low as we do. A President will shape economic policy, will make key military decisions, will lead the nation in good times and bad. But a teacher will educate those people who will one day be President and do all of those things. Good teachers, teachers who are well-rewarded for their efforts, will produce better and better students.

I have had a number of good teachers in my life, far more good teachers than bad ones, and I’m sure each and every one of them taught because it was something they believed in and not something they were well paid for. In my ideal world, teachers would be at the level of baseball players in their celebrity and value. It would be more difficult to become a teacher than it is today, but it would be more rewarding for everyone involved. And once you made it to the big leagues…

There would be a “league minimum” salary, just like in baseball, and this starting salary would be among the highest in all tax funded jobs. There might be a certain amount of time where you are paying your dues, earning that high league minimum but teaching in areas that today, don’t necessarily get the best teachers. After a certain number of years of service (five, seven?), you would become a free agent, and at that point, the sky is the limit. Perhaps teachers would even sign with agents, the way that ball players do, and let themselves be bid on for the best possible contract. Those teachers not performing up to par could be let out of their contracts. Instead of “spring training” teachers might report to “summer training” in which they were paid to be continually improving their skill set outside the normal school year.

At the end of each school year, there would be locally and nationally recognized awards, MVTs (Most Valuable Teacher), Golden Chalkboards, you name it. There would be cash incentives for these awards. Teachers might develop reputations that would attract advertisers.  Just as you see Derek Jeter in shaving commercials, so you might see your local teacher in an Amazon Kindle advertisement.  When a teacher was spotted in a restaurant, there might be a flock of students nervously approaching them for an autograph. Kids and parents alike would whip out their smart phones when they saw a particularly famous teacher walking down the street.

And like ballplayers, teachers would be extraordinarily good at what they do. They would be the best of the best, all to the students benefit. And the students would benefit from this. We’d see our kids getting better educated, becoming better thinkers. We’d see more kids entering the sciences. We’d see universities recruiting kids because of who they had for their teacher. Of course, not every teacher can be a Derek Jeter, but they do raise the bar, raise the overall quality of the profession, and that too, is to the infinite benefit of the students.

Many of the students might even decide to become teachers themselves when they grow up. It might be as difficult as medical school is today (and of equal prestige), but the result would be a generation of teachers the likes of which we have never seen.  And the result of that is a remarkable generation of well-educated students who would grow up to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, artists, politicians, engineers, business owners, technology workers, pilots, bus drivers, trash collectors, and well-rounded citizens.

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world like that. And all because we’d place a different value on teachers than we do today.

“By convention”

The previous post reminded me of something that happened in 7th grade pre-algebra:

Someone (perhaps me) asked the teacher one day why we used x to represent an unknown quantity.  Without hesitation, the teacher answered, "By convention."  He then moved on to solve 2x+6 = 16, or whatever the equation was we were working with.

At the time, I thought nothing of the response.  It wasn’t until years later, when I’d read all 399 of Isaac Asimov’s science essays from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that I realized what a cop-out the answer was.  It was always possible to explain something clearly to a young audience, as Asimov had proved on a monthly basis for more than 30 years.  I grew visibly annoyed for several reasons:

  1. "By convention" while generally true, does not mean very much to a 7th grader.  Truth be told, I had no idea what "by convention" meant at the time.
  2. If I had know what it meant, I would have interpreted it as a synonym for "Because I said so."
  3. There are some fascinating reasons for why x is used, some of which are discussed in Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra by John Derbyshire.

All my life I have been turned off by things that couldn’t be explained.  When I was young, I tended to ignore them.  As I grew older (and particularly after I read Asimov’s science essays), I began to embrace them and look for a better understanding of them.  It seems to me that my math teachers callous casting off of the question with "by convention" probably detracted from my early interest in math.  I wonder how much more interested I would have been if he had supplied a more reasonable answer.

The teacher dream

I had a dream last night that I went back and visited my first elementary school, Macafee Road School, in Somerset, New Jersey. In the dream, the school was entirely different than it is in reality. And I saw a teacher there who was supposed to have been my first grade teacher, but who in fact, was my 8th grade science teacher at Porter Junior High School in Granada Hill, California. In my dream, she had aged somewhat. I walked up to her and introduced myself and of course she didn’t remember me, but I talked about some of her classes and I think that convinced her I was legit. She talked to me for a little while and then had to leave. As I wandered around the school afterward, I saw one or two other teachers I recognized, and though this was a dream, I felt like a recognized some of the faces of real teachers that I haven’t seen in twenty years.

I’m almost certain that this dream was triggered to the email I received from my computer teacher from junior high school last week. Still, it was nice to see my old science teacher, even if it was just a dream.

Out of the past

I woke up this morning to find an email from a computer teacher I had in 9th grade back at George K. Porter Middle School (back when it was George K. Porter Junior High School). He has recently retired and he’s been in touch with my friend Noah and it was through Noah that he got back in touch with me. I replied to his email first thing this morning.

Afterward, I went to Porter’s website and scanned through the faculty to see if there was anyone else I recognized. There were one or two, but almost no one else remains there, 19-1/2 years later. No Mr. Follette, no Mrs. Davis, no Senor Apodaca. I thought I recognized Mr. Hill, but I’m not sure what I had him for.

When I looked under “electives”, I saw there was a link for a web development class, but clicking on the link involves all kinds of irony.