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Teacher Appreciation, Asian Style

It's Teacher Appreciation Week. I can write volumes on the many great educators who have shaped my life, and who continue to teach me every day. But I will give thanks here by sharing with policymakers some lessons on how to support and empower teachers.

I write to you from Asia, where by all accounts, teachers are held in high esteem. Some say that it's cultural, with deep roots of tradition. This may be true, but many Asian nations also have good policies and practices in place to ensure teachers can do their jobs effectively to gain the respect they deserve.

Invest in teachers. In China and Japan, if local school districts cannot meet competitive salary requirements for teachers, the federal government invests in teacher salaries to ensure they stay in the profession. The United States spends more per pupil than these (and most) nations, but we tend to spend a lot more on non-academic programs. We should ask ourselves: are our investments paying off, or should we reallocate funds?

Let teachers lead. In Singapore, schools are the centers of teaching innovation. All professional development is designed and implemented by teachers for teachers. In China, an educator can expect 360 hours of professional development per year. Teachers teach fewer hours, but have more time to work on their own growth as educators.

Recognize the true value of teachers. In Korea, Japan, Singapore, China, and many other nations, a test score never measures a teacher's worth.

We show our appreciation to teachers this week, but we should show them our support every week by demanding better for them. What I've shared are not just ideas; they are real practices backed by policy and public will. American teachers deserve at least the same.

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