Ask anyone to name the most influential people in their lives and almost without exception, a teacher makes the list.

Teachers are the backbone of our education system. Safe, functional and well-maintained facilities are important, just as skilled administrators to run them are also a key to successful school corporations. But if good teachers aren’t in the classroom, our schools suffer. Our students suffer. Society, in general, suffers.

Good teachers enlighten young lives, inspire career choices and, at times, transform students headed down the wrong paths.

What happened in this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly with education reform was characterized by some as an attack on teachers. I beg to differ. I think it was an historic affirmation of teachers and the powerful impact they can have on students.

Good teachers deserve more than just the incremental bump in pay after another year of experience. They shouldn’t be trapped by a system that treats everyone the same, because not all teachers are the same, just as not all factory workers, office staff, medical providers – you name it – are the same.
Education reforms passed in this year’s legislative session seek to reward the best and brightest in ways not possible under the system that has been in place since the mid-1900s. There’s a bit of irony to the argument against pay for teachers to be based on performance, when students in the same classrooms are prepared, tested and rewarded on any given day.

Many ask, “Shouldn’t teachers expect to be treated much the same way?”
Education reform legislation that takes effect July 1 includes a new evaluation system that will make a positive difference in teachers’ everyday lives. These will be locally designed and administered performance evaluations of teachers and principals based in-part on student learning and academic growth. Such a process will give great teachers the opportunity to earn pay increases based on their effectiveness – not just seniority – and end the practice of laying off teachers with less seniority first, regardless of teaching abilities.

Novice and veteran teachers alike would have detailed, constructive feedback, tailored to the individual needs of their classrooms and students. Teachers and principals would meet regularly to discuss successes and areas for improvement, set professional goals and create an individualized plan to meet those goals.

It’s important to stress current teachers will not lose pay under Senate Enrolled Act 1. This legislation concerns raises given to teachers in the future, not current salary levels. It also leaves plenty of room for innovation where evaluations are concerned. Local school leaders can determine the data to be used and other evaluation tools best suited for their district. Many school districts already have effective evaluation procedures. For those that don’t, SEA 1 directs the Indiana Department of Education to assist by developing models district leaders may consider, but the new law certainly does not mandate a one-size-fits-all process.

Indiana’s schools are full of great teachers who demonstrate a rigorous work ethic and incredible talents for driving student success. All Hoosier students should benefit from the type of instruction these teachers provide on a daily basis. Thanks to Indiana’s new system for locally-developed, robust and fair annual evaluations for teachers and principals, now maybe they can.

Not everyone can be an ‘A’ student. But everyone can improve – especially if a good teacher is leading the classroom. Hopefully, this year’s reforms, particularly the performance pay provisions, will encourage more of America’s best and brightest students to choose teaching as a profession.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported almost half of U.S. K-12 teachers come from the bottom third of college classes. Contrast that to three of the top-performing school systems in the world — those in Finland, Singapore and South Korea. These countries take a different approach, recruiting 100 percent of their teachers from the top third of their high school and college students.

With about half of America’s 3.5 million teachers eligible to retire in the next decade, the question of who should and who will teach looms especially large. So this discussion was especially timely for this year’s Indiana General Assembly.

Perhaps this year’s education reforms will keep great teachers in the classroom longer, because they now have an opportunity to receive appropriate recognition and rewards. Maybe those who have never considered teaching as a career choice will change their minds, now that a fairer employee evaluation and salary system is in place – much like other valued professions.

David Long - IN Dist. 16 Senator

David is a former Republican member of the Indiana State Senate representing the 16th district which encompasses Waynedale. He served as the President Pro Tempore of the Indiana State Senate. David writes the "Straight From The Senate" column for the newspaper. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer