Teacher appreciation: Our role in encouraging excellence

Recalling great teachers

From the responses I’ve collected over the years, a common theme has emerged: Great teachers have a passion for their subject matter, and communicating that passion stays with students for decades. Two recent responses make the point:

  • For my friend Marco, a successful author and public relations executive, his Beverly Hills High School forensics (public speaking and debate) teacher was his favorite. In an email, he wrote: “Bonnie Miller pushed us out of our comfort zones, inspired us to think creatively, write fast and fearlessly, and speak extemporaneously in events ranging from SPAR [spontaneous argumentation] to impromptu speaking — five minutes to prepare a five-minute talk on a random topic that we picked from a hat.” Marco also noted that he has hung on to several of his high school debate trophies for almost 40 years. Ms. Miller was a great teacher!
  • My friend Kathyrn’s favorite teacher was Mother Mary Noel. “I’m sure her strictness and rigid standards were terrible for some students,” Kathryn said when we chatted and emailed. “But if you loved learning, she loved teaching. I can see Mother Mary Noel with her black sleeves rolled up, her veil, and the Rosary beads tied at her waist, flapping, as we collected plants in the nearby park for the terrariums she had us assembling in class. She taught us how to memorize a poem each week, working on it until we were word perfect on Fridays. To this day, I can recite whole anthologies. I have no fear of having nothing to read [if I’m] cast away on a desert island.”

Supporting and appreciating great teachers

What is the payoff from great teachers? The benefits can be hard to quantify precisely, but everyone who has experienced a great or a favorite teacher can explain why that teacher’s great. My young friend Zaza reminisced about his college economics classes in which he learned about a number of research projects aimed at quantifying the real-world impact of teachers. He recalled that some examined the role of parents versus teachers. Others examined the role of cash bonuses for teachers. Raj Chetty, an economics professor at Harvard University, was the lead author on a 2014 study published in the American Economic Review that quantified teachers’ impact according to their “value added,” measured by improved test scores. Dr. Chetty and his co-authors found that “students assigned to high-VA teachers are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, and are less likely to have children as teenagers.”

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Jacqueline Adams

Jacqueline Adams

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Jacqueline Adams is an Emmy Award winning journalist. She is the co-author of “A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive.”