published Thursday, May 17th, 2012

David Cook: The best teachers in U.S.

  • photo
    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 /Chattanooga 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

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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timbo said...

Hey Cook....In real dollars education spending since 1945 has increased 5 times what it is today. Reading scores were higher in 1945 than today. Hmmmm.....

Giving money before results is at the very least unwise and at the most un-American.. When the results improve I don't think anyone would protest at increasing teachers salaries.

As of today, if we paid them for the product they are producing they would get a 50% cut.

Just wondering Cook, are you on some kind of happy pill? You have the most irritating column I have ever read. You must use a lot of Chapstik with all the butt kissing you do.

As far as the best teacher I ever had, it was the one that taught me to read...after that I didn't need them.

May 18, 2012 at 1:53 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

There is an easy solution, timbo. Stop reading them.

May 19, 2012 at 7:31 a.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

Timbo, if you think test scores are the only reflection of quality teaching and that schools and teachers are the only - or even the most important - factor in student success, then I believe you are in far greater need of a good teacher than you believe. Work on your research and critical thinking skills for starters.

May 19, 2012 at 6:56 p.m.
timbo said...

lkeithlu.....I read everything. Even people like you and other people I don't like or agree with. It is good to know what the enemy is thinking.

Also, critisim is positive. If Cook, or you for that matter, can't take it he should get out of the business.

May 21, 2012 at 11:24 a.m.
timbo said...

AlmostAmanda....Well, let's just say Almost..that I have proven my critical thinking skills over a lot of years and have used them to make a very good living.

If you had any "critical thinking skills" you would surmise that more and more and more money is spent per student with less and less results. Teachers can't brag about how important they are and then turn around and deny it in the same breath. In any other job, more money is associated with more performance. That was the point I was making.

Student success has to do with genetics, environment, and culture. Your right teachers are way down the list. Thanks for making my point for me Ms. "Critical Thinking Skills."

May 21, 2012 at 11:32 a.m.
hixsondave said...

The lines of responsibility and accountability between teachers and administration blur when funding increases are debated. It all ways sounds like they would rather measure school success by the total funding they get. The more money spent the better the schools... lets just go with total dollars and omit all that bothersome testing.

May 21, 2012 at 12:18 p.m.
timbo said...

Maybe kids are just dumber. Natural selection took care of the dumb people in the past but now they are kept alive. They don't starve or die of diseases or from some stupid accident that a smart person could have prevented. These people stay alive and breed, and their kids breed, etc. etc....and the population as a whole get's less intelligent.

Liberals are a case in point. When life was more difficult there were less liberals. When life became easier they had time to sit around and think this crap up. Now, liberals are breeding like crazy and conservatives have less children. So, the country get's dumber, and dumber,.....

May 21, 2012 at 12:47 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

I am a liberal, and I have worked two, sometimes three jobs all my adult life, my primary job being an educator. Even own my home and all of my vehicles outright. Oh, and volunteer in my community and pay taxes. Don't belong to a church so they don't get any money from me, but I give to non-religious charities. You can take your stereotypes and shove'em, timbo.

May 21, 2012 at 10:33 p.m.
timbo said...

lkeithlu....What in the heck are you talking about? Do you have low self esteem or something?

May 23, 2012 at 4:25 p.m.
timbo said...

lkeithlu.....Another liberal teacher....

May 23, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

You know exactly what I'm saying timbo,

Liberals are a case in point. When life was more difficult there were less liberals. When life became easier they had time to sit around and think this crap up. Now, liberals are breeding like crazy and conservatives have less children. So, the country get's dumber, and dumber,.....

stereotyping What you do when you don't have anything intelligent to say

May 23, 2012 at 10:06 p.m.
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