When Sabrina Bri Moore, a teacher at Madison Park Business & Art Academy in Oakland, CA, was in the second grade, her teacher called her “stupid.” That stuck with her until she was 30.

“My whole life I believed I wasn't smart,” she says. “Then I recognized at one point that I was, and I wanted to be for students what somebody wasn’t for me. I wanted students who were like me, who didn’t believe in themselves, to get somebody who believed in them.”

The starting line

The importance of teachers in students’ lives cannot be overstated. We see this through anecdotes like Moore’s, and from scientific studies. The Rand Corporation found that, “being taught by an effective teacher has important consequences for student achievement,” and that for students raised in adverse conditions “effective teaching has the potential to help level the playing field.”

Great teachers are also needed because children who start slowly in education can be sent on a troubling path.

“Some students go into the system without the pre-literacy training other students have, such as parents reading with them at home, so they’re not prepared,” says Jack Lynch, CEO of Renaissance Learning. “If they’re not ready by third grade, they’re likely to have an unsuccessful academic career. There’s a pipeline from not being successful in third grade to dropping out of high school.”

Become the teacher

The good news is, a dedicated teacher can make a difference, and pass an emotional connection to learning along to their students.

“We as a country need to ensure that we have as much respect for the teaching profession as we do for other professions that save lives.”

“Every teacher I know thinks about education and their students when their students are not there,” says Justin Aion, who teaches at Woodland Hills Jr/Sr High School in North Braddock, PA. “They spend their summers going to workshops, and reading, and learning how to be better teachers. You don’t do that unless you’re emotionally invested in your students.”

Aion speaks from a student’s experience, having been inspired to teach by his own great teachers. “I had lots of teachers I found very inspirational,” he says. “My fourth grade teacher cared for us in a way that was more parental than authoritarian. If she was able to do this year after year, make students feel they were important and she was gonna keep them safe, that was the kind of teacher I wanted to be.”

National dialogue

This emotional investment is key, now and in the future, for effective education. But it’s harder for teachers to have this investment if they’re not supported. National public scapegoating of teachers for poor student performance has led to low morale in the profession, and this needs to change if the future of education is to be effective.

“In other countries, like Finland, the teaching profession is held in high esteem—like doctors [here],” says Lynch. “We as a country need to ensure that we have as much respect for the teaching profession as we do for other professions that save lives.”

Advancing technology will help give children a more personal and inspirational educational experience. Many kids have a discrepancy between their chronological age and their educational age, i.e., a sixth grader could be learning at a third grade level. And recent advances are providing teachers with tools that allow them to teach according to their students’ individual educational needs.

But if we as a country don’t do everything we can to give teachers the support they need, and appreciate the importance of their contributions to our children’s upbringings, it’s the students that will suffer.

“We need an attitude in this country about the importance of teachers,” says Lynch. “That’s going to be necessary to create a more favorable environment within which teachers are going to feel successful and thrive.”