Happy Teachers’ Day: do teachers have reasons to celebrate?

classroom-finlandMontserrat Gomendio, Deputy Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Today we celebrate World Teachers’ Day. Who cares? According to most opinion polls, it matters to most people in most of our societies, since teachers consistently rank as high as doctors as the most trusted and valued occupations. They are regarded as altruistic and devoted to performing tasks which are very important for society.  It is also true that most of us still marvel at the huge impact that some of our teachers had on us: the journey of discovery that they invited us to join; the questions that we did not even imagine could be posed; the expectations that they had about what we were capable of doing even before we knew; the support they gave us when we felt lost; the craving for learning that we would never forget.

Given this widespread consensus on the impact that teachers have on our lives and those of our children, and on the huge influence that what and how we learn can have on the future of our societies, it is important to ask: How does it feel to be held in such high regard?

The OECD has asked teachers and has uncovered a sad reality: in most countries less than 50% of teachers feel valued by society, and in some the proportion is smaller than 10%. Not surprisingly, the exceptions are countries like Finland, Singapore or Korea, where the education systems place great emphasis on teacher quality, and teachers seem to be aware of the impact that they have on children’s future.

So why do teachers tend to feel that they are not valued by society, if they are? Let’s have a look at the evidence collected by the OECD. The first issue that is commonly raised is salaries, but this seems to be only part of the story. It is true that in countries with very low salaries, teachers do not feel valued and it is difficult to attract the best candidates to the profession. However, it is also the case that teachers in Finland earn less than teachers in Spain or the United States where few teachers feel valued.

Teaching careers, like many others, may be attractive not only because of the financial benefits, but also because of the intellectual stimulation that they provide. Thus, teachers that have high levels of self-efficacy (in other words, are proud about how they perform), tend to feel valued by society. What seems to matter most is whether teachers can engage in collaboration with other teachers, by providing feed-back to each other, can observe each other’s classes, and can exchange good practices. Feeling part of a team which thrives makes teachers feel more valued and more satisfied with their careers, than working in isolation and following a routine year after year.

These forms of collaborative professional development are important not only for the self-esteem of teachers. Today’s teachers need to remain learners throughout their careers, and become experts in the science of learning. Their success depends on their ability to discover new ways to improve students’ performance and to equip them with 21st Century skills.

Teachers have many reasons to celebrate: people trust them, they have the power to transform people’s lives, and new ways to support them in their professional development are being developed. Last but not least, the OECD has given them a voice so that we can understand better their concerns and what matters for the success of their work.

Useful links

Empowering teachers with high-quality professional development Fabian Barrera-Pedemonte, UCL Institute of Education and Thomas J. Alexander Fellow, on the OECD Educationtoday blog

TALIS -The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey

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