Teachers, Our Most Important Resource

By Dr. Jared Bigham, Edge, June 30, 2016

As conversations about Chattanooga 2.0 unfold, one question we often hear is: “What was Chattanooga 1.0?”

The answer reminds us of a time when our community rallied around renewal of the downtown area and the riverfront. Chattanooga 1.0 was about place. Chattanooga 2.0 is about people and developing local talent. The conversation about talent also extends into the realm of human capital and the investments we make in our local educators.

As a former principal, I know the importance of effective programs, technology, and curricular resources to support instruction. But great education is about people, not just programs. Effective teachers are worth their weight in gold, or in this case, their weight in iPads, smart boards, laptops, or new textbooks.  Sometimes we fixate on the tools of education and forget that for students the teacher represents the most valuable classroom resource.

Effective teachers are worth their weight in gold, or in this case, their weight in iPads, smart boards, laptops, or new textbooks.  Sometimes we fixate on the tools of education and forget that for students the teacher represents the most valuable classroom resource.

Education supporters tend to more readily support investments in new technology or innovative instructional programs. For example, a 30-unit mobile laptop cart to support a classroom costs about $10,000.  Purchases like this require criteria be met explaining necessity, use, and how effectiveness will be measured.  We often seem to give the “things” we see in education the most attention, and tend not to view our teachers through the same financial lens, though they’re a far more significant long-term investment we make every year.

Over a 30-year career, the school district invests approximately $2 million in a teacher with a bachelor’s degree, and that figure increases significantly with an advanced degree.

I’m firmly in the camp that teachers and principals should be paid more for the importance and challenge of their job when it is done well, but the perspective of a $2 million investment reminds us to think strategically about human capital and how we recruit, retain and support educators.

Key questions to keep at the forefront of our talent and human capital strategies:

How do we attract top talent for our schools?
How do we support local teacher prep programs to “grow our own” high-potential teachers?
How do we keep great educators in our schools through financial incentives and also through increased opportunities for teachers and principals to grow professionally?
How do we make sure our highest potential teachers are engaged with our highest need students?

As Chattanooga 2.0 drives our community conversation about education, people will look for programmatic ways to support education and “things” we can purchase. These things are important, but we must remember that more important is a strategic plan around human capital  practices that help attract great educators, train great educators, and keep great educators.