David Cook: The best teachers in U.S.

David Cook: The best teachers in U.S.

May 17th, 2012 by David Cook in News

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) reacts to a foul call against him in the first half of Game 7 against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

Photo by The Commercial Appeal /Times Free Press.

Think of the best teacher you ever had.

His personality. Her intellect. The ability to tell stories, ask hard questions, stir the conscience. Or perhaps this teacher just deep-down believed in you. By the end of the year, you were different. Bigger inside. Better.

Now, think of the worst, I'd-rather-dig-a-ditch-than-go-to-class, horrible, no good, very bad teacher you've ever had.

Boring as an IRS form? Irrelevant? Mean? Unkind? All in the first five minutes of class?

Teachers matter. More than anything else in the classroom.

"Teacher effectiveness is the most important factor in student growth," claims a Tennessee Department of Education report on teacher value. "Stronger than income, class size, race or family educational background."

One recent study found that switching out a bad teacher with a good teacher not only dramatically improves test scores, but also resulted in higher salaries for students later in life.

"A great teacher is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each year's students, just in the extra income they will earn," wrote Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times.

The Hamilton County Department of Education is after millions of dollars in funding from Nashville for a new program called the Innovation Zone, or iZone, which sounds weirdly like some back-alley Kindle knockoff or new Geraldo Rivera talk show.

Created by former Hamilton County Superintendent Jesse Register -- now in charge of metro schools in Nashville -- the iZone promises the turnaround of the lowest performing schools in the state.

We have five: Brainerd High, Woodmore Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary and Dalewood Middle.

The iZone is like a minidepartment of education and sounds a lot like the Benwood Initiative. A new director is hired. An office is created. Flexibility granted to make some pretty bold changes, all in an attempt to create vast change at the lowest performing schools in the area.

Hamilton County's recent application for iZone funding was denied, but did come with early money to begin planning our next application. Essentially, we don't have a choice.

"They [the five schools] either become part of the iZone or they did not get iZone or school improvement grant dollars," said Superintendent Rick Smith. "It was either all or nothing."

So we're applying for a grant for a new system ... created by a former Hamilton County superintendent ... who may have modeled his creation off an initiative that began in Chattanooga ... while he was superintendent?

That's not a rhetorical question.

Whenever the money comes, use it on teachers. Get the best and brightest in America, and recruit them to Hamilton County.

"You've got to have the very best teachers in every classroom, especially in high poverty schools," said Clara Sale-Davis, director of the Benwood Initiative. "These children can't do it without us."

Chattanooga consistently makes the list of Best Places to Live in America. We're a kind-of-hip city with beautiful scenery and really kind people. Great teachers -- and we've already got many in our schools today -- ought to flock here.

Teachers matter more to the future of our city than the VW plant, so waive their property taxes, too. Offer free Gig-City Internet, yearly passes to museums, concerts, Lookouts games, anything and everything.

We already have so many good teachers; let's get more. We ought to have a Teacher Draft, where we publicize the names of the most decorated teachers in other cities and most promising education majors graduating from college. Call them. Wine and dine, flirt, beg, borrow and steal to get them here.

And then overpay the heck out of them.

"Our society sends a loud message that we don't value our teachers by their pay," said Sale-Davis, who's got 29 years of experience as a teacher and administrator. "The plumber I called probably makes more money."

A brand-new, out-of-college teacher earns $34,198, according to the Hamilton County salary scale. With 25 years of teaching experience, the salary goes to $50,329.

A master's degree-holding teacher with 10 years teaching experience earns $46,780. With 25 years of experience, the salary is $55,168.

"We're the profession that creates all other professions," Sale-Davis said. "And we're paid the least?"

Think of that very best teacher. What if every student had a teacher like her?

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@hushmail.com.