Over the past few years, I have made it a point to visit elementary classrooms and high schools across Senate District 14. The passion of the teachers I meet never fails to inspire me: for many teachers, education is both a career and a calling to shape the lives of young people. Most educators work long hours, taking papers and tests home with them to grade after dinner with their own family.
The impact that a great teacher has on a young person’s life is fairly dramatic. According to research by the economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, a student who has a strong fourth-grade teacher is 1.25 percent more likely to go to college than if she has a weak fourth-grade teacher. Students with a strong fourth-grade teacher will earn, on average, $25,000 more over their lifetime than students with poor teachers. (The authors found similar effects for teachers across all elementary and middle school grades.) Taken in the aggregate, the impact an excellent teacher has on an entire classroom is quite profound: the trajectories of dozens of young people can be altered for the better by a passionate, engaged, and knowledgeable educator.
As a legislator, one of my top priorities has been supporting great teachers. For each of the past seven years, I have co-sponsored proposals to give public school teachers a pay raise, and fortunately, in 2016 the Legislature was able to come to an agreement on a 4 percent raise for most educators. I am continuing to work hard to find a fiscally sustainable pathway for giving another pay raise to teachers in the 2018 legislative session that starts in January, and if the state budget’s condition allows it, I will also advocate to increase the financial resources available to special education teachers.
The academic research verifies what each parent knows intuitively: a great teacher can have a huge impact on the life of a child. So let us continue to celebrate the profession of teaching and find innovative ways to reward the great teachers in our classrooms; and may many of our brightest students aspire to become teachers themselves – for what other profession moulds the dreams and aspirations of so many?
Republican Senator Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale, and Jefferson counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard