For the past two Sundays, I’ve enjoyed reliving the exploits of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, through ESPN’s The Last Dance. Jordan was a transformative athlete, and the ratings from the first four episodes show that his cultural impact has not waned much since his retirement.
I was in high school at the beginning of Jordan’s rise. I remember gathering with my friends and watching him dunk a basketball from the foul line, and I remember feeling sorry for my buddy in college, a die-hard Knicks fan after the Bulls had vanquished the Knicks in another NBA Eastern Conference Final. I, like many others, wanted to be like Mike.
I instead became a teacher. While the salaries aren’t comparable, I would argue that the impact is. Many of today’s high schoolers only know Jordan because of silly internet memes, but they can all remember and tell you stories about their first-grade teacher. Beyond personal impact, better educational outcomes are associated with reduced criminal justice costs, reduced healthcare costs, and increased economic growth. Therefore, it is not surprising then that there has been so much attention paid to increasing these educational outcomes. To that end, a lot of that attention has been spent discussing what type of school that students should attend. Public or Private? Faith-based or Charter? Traditional or Progressive? However, this decision seems to have relatively little impact on student learning gains. Instead, the quality of a teacher in a classroom continues to be one of the greatest influencers of student progress.
Unfortunately, right now teachers are teaching from their living rooms, not their classrooms. For many, how this transition is going is summarized well by this video:
Jordan also had a transition in his work mid-career. Jordan famously played minor league baseball for the Chicago White Sox. In March of 1995, when he made his return to the NBA, he announced it via maybe the pithiest press statement ever:
And teachers, you’ll be back also. During Teacher Appreciation Week, all of us at VEX Robotics want to thank you for all that you’ve done, what you are doing now, and what you’ll be doing in the future. We don’t know when schools will open and what the new normal will look like after COVID-19, but at VEX we’ll support you as you continue impacting students’ lives in a positive way. But for right now, we just want to say that we appreciate you, and we’re very grateful that you didn’t choose to be like Mike, but instead, you chose to be something far nobler, a Teacher.