How much is a good teacher worth – in terms of actual dollars? That’s the question that some researchers at Harvard University and Columbia University tried to answer with a remarkable study.
They developed a database of over one million students and followed them from fourth grade through adulthood. In their findings, published in 2012, they reported that children who have a good fourth-grade teacher are more likely to earn more as adults. On average, each student who has a good fourth-grade teacher will have $25,000 more in lifetime earnings. For a class of 28 students, that means their good teacher is worth a combined total of $700,000 in increased earnings for the whole class over their lifetimes.
In addition, the researchers found that students who had a good fourth-grade teacher are more likely to go to college and more likely to stay out of trouble in their teenage years. In short, good teachers do make a huge difference in the lives of their students.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” I can attest to that. I owe so much to my teachers at Clay Elementary School, Hewitt-Trussville junior high and high schools, and UAB.
Mrs. Chandler taught me to read. Mrs. Brown taught me my multiplication tables and long division. Mr. Tillison introduced me to good novels and poetry. Mr. Whittiker revealed the wonders of biology. But most of all, Mrs. Roby, my high school English teacher, challenged me to think for myself and inspired me to reach my potential. She expected my best. Demanded it. And instilled in me a drive for excellence and a quest for learning that I carry to this day.
As we embark upon another school year, I want to say “thank you” to all you teachers out there. It must be a tough job at times – overcoming the struggles of a complicated education system, working with challenging students, dealing with their parents. Thank you for doing it. Thank you for inspiring our children to learn. Thank you for being a role model, a friend, even a savior for some children. Thank you for being a parental figure to a child who hardly has one of his or her own. Thank you for showing toughness, and kindness, and justice, and mercy.
Don’t ever forget that yours is a job of tremendous influence. For the rest of their lives, your students will remember what they learned from you. While they may not remember all of the lesson material, they will remember your example and they will remember how much you cared. Thank you.