Building Respect for Teachers

The Pentagon in 2009 employed 27,000 people for recruitment, advertising, and public relations for all branches of the military, at a cost of $4.7 billion. No doubt, fulfilling military recruitment quotas is critical for our national security. But there is nothing more important to our homeland security than employing a quality teacher in every classroom.

What if we put in $1 million in Silicon Valley into a public relations campaign to raise the stature of teaching while recruiting the best to the profession?

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” —Albert Einstein

“Not only is there an art in knowing a thing, but also a certain art in teaching it.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero

As I embark on the last two years of my term as County School Board Trustee I want to focus my energies on a 2008 platform plank I have yet to fully develop. I want to support the creation of a comprehensive plan to raise the stature of the teaching profession, arguably the most important profession on the planet.

For too long we have let the teaching profession wallow in negativity. Teachers and teaching must receive lots more respect for their role is essential for an informed democracy. 

This can be done through a deftly conceived and executed multi-media public relations campaign. Children and community leaders can tell stories about the teachers that made a difference in their life. These stories can be told repeatedly on the radio, television, YouTube, social media, and in print. Pathways to become a teacher can be highlighted. Ivy League Teach For America recruits can tell personal stories about why they stayed in the profession for more than their two-year commitment in the toughest schools in the urban inner city.

To do teaching well it takes an extraordinary talent, intellect, and physical stamina. There is no doubt from my perspective that the preponderance of public school teachers in our valley work tirelessly to see that every child succeeds.  The few who make too much while doing too little ruin it for the many. Forty percent of new teachers leave the profession after 3-5 years even though they have achieved tenure status due to lack of support, resources, the inordinate amount of hours, public ridicule and lack of respect for what they do each day. 

Through the creative energies in this valley we can reverse this trend. We must increase the number of top tier college graduates that enter the teaching profession here in Silicon Valley. We must do so by beginning to talk about the teaching profession as a meaningful career choice in our high schools. Increasing the number of male teachers must become a critical goal of the campaign.  Too many elementary school children do not have a positive male role model figure in their life.

The teacher builds the quality of our future one child at a time. We have all had the teacher who made a difference in our lives by believing in us while they taught us the content and lessons about life. Those teachers knew our interests, weaknesses, and strengths. They artfully helped scaffold the content so we succeeded. Whenever we failed they picked us up to begin again to strengthen the area for which we were weak. The art of teaching at its purest of levels is a little like magic.

Therefore a plan to recruit the best and brightest to the teaching profession through a public relations campaign is critical from my vantage point. I am sickened when I hear friends of mine criticize their children for thinking about teaching as a profession when they return home from college between quarters or semesters. “Why do you want to go into teaching, when you have the knowledge to go into law, medicine, engineering or science and make more money,” they ask.

I urge the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the Santa Clara County Office of Education to work together to fund this venture. I long for the day when our sons and daughters come home from one of their college breaks and inform their parents they are going into the teaching profession and there are hugs and tears of joy all the way around.

I am willing to be an anchor to get this venture off the ground. If there is interest please contact me at [email protected].

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” —Henry Brooks Adams

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. > Building Respect for Teachers

    Respect is earned, not demanded.

    Teachers were vastly more respected when they were employed on the basis of their competence, integrity, and dedication.

    Teachers’ unions turned teachers from true education professionals into nameless, faceless mercenary cannon fodder in the union’s army of class warfare.

  2. “What if we put in $1 million in Silicon Valley into a public relations campaign to raise the stature of teaching while recruiting the best to the profession?”

    I suggest we obtain the money by cutting down the number of school districts and the number of administrators in each of them.

  3. A lot needs to happen to bring respect back to the teaching profession, and a PR campaign will not cut it.

    1. Merit based pay
    Self-respecting workers are not interested in a profession that they will not be recognized for good performance.  Plaques are nice, but money is substance.  There’s no incentive for the “best and brightest” to become teachers if they know they’ll be sharing their salaries with their mediocre peers. 

    2. Accountability
    Once you have tenure, anything short of breaking the law and you’ve got a job for life.  Why should anyone respect a profession where incompetence goes unpunished?

    3. Different salaries for different subjects
    Some specialties should pay more than others.  Why would an engineer teach high school science knowing they’ll be paid the same as an English major who has little choice other than teaching?  If someone is expected to choose teaching over industry, the industry average salary for that specialty needs to be accounted for.  Respect for a position comes from compensation.  Underpaying those with useful degrees will not attract top talent.

    4. Harder requirements
    The CBEST is a joke.  Compare it to say, the bar exam, which is infinitely harder.  Evidently lawyers are much more important than teachers since we screen them so much more stringently.

    Any one of these items would help return respectability.  Implement all of them and you’d have a profession I’d consider joining.

      • Mr. DiSalvo,

        You’ve definitely been pressing lately on the compensation and tenure issues and I’m happy you’re doing so.  This is a good quote from your post last week:

        “As a principal I never had the capacity to provide those 15-25 percent of teachers who do a miraculous job of meeting the academic, social and emotional needs of all children with performance/merit pay. Rather the system of compensation as justified by the current union thinking that believes all teachers are worth the same pay based on their years of experience and education. This continued belief will destroy the union and with it our public school system.”

        There’s an important point here: as with any profession, management should be able to decide compensation.  The merit debate always gets caught up in whether test scores are an accurate measurement of effectiveness.  Test scores are all we the public have access to, so that’s what we’re trying to use.  If we could trust principals to act like the managers they are and make decisions about their employees, we wouldn’t have to resort to the use of a metric teachers don’t want.  Unfortunately, the teachers union has destroyed our trust.

        I hope as someone within the system that can actually make changes your actions back up your words.

  4. Let’s do what’s really in the best interest for teachers, students and our communities and make all schools private.

  5. > I suggest we obtain the money by cutting down the number of school districts and the number of administrators in each of them.

    You wouldn’t be suggesting that the Santa Clara County Office of Education could be eliminated, would you?

    You radical!!!

    • “You wouldn’t be suggesting that the Santa Clara County Office of Education could be eliminated, would you?”

      That would be a good start.  We need redundancy in commercial aircraft, not in education jobs.

    • $212 Million,

      I want to see our county positioned with the best teachers in all content areas. It would be our efforts to change the calculous, not owned by the CTA or CFT. Our local stories would drive the increased respect and stature of a profession far too maligned.

  6. Mr. DiSalvo,

    You are absolutely right. Our teachers deserve far more respect than they are receiving. We have many dedicated teachers who spend their meager salaries providing supplies for classrooms, spend their off hours preparing course materials, and continue their own education so they can adjust to the changing times and needs of our children.

    Respect for our teachers begins at home, that is, with the Board of Education. The county recently honored 30 of Santa Clara County’s finest teachers at the 41st Annual Teacher Recognition Celebration.

    Did you bother to show up, to show your appreciation or respect for those hardworking and dedicated teachers? No. 

    Did any of your fellow boardmembers take an hour of their week to recognize their teachers? No.

    And, while it is all the rage these days to say this problem or that one can be solved with a clever public relations campaign, you might consider mentioning the close relationship you have with a public relations professional and the potential conflict of interest. Perhaps rather than spending $1M in funding that should be directly helping the education of our children Mrs. DiSalvo would like to contribute her services in a pro bono public relations campaign?

    • Respecting,

      I agree that I should have attended, I did attend last year’s ceremony. This year I had a timing conflict. I sincerely appreciate our teachers of the year and did participate in recognizing the SCCOE teacher of the year at one of our Board meetings in September.

  7. It is interesting that you point to Pentagon expenditure of $4.7 Billion on public relations to lead into an argument on why hiring a public relations firm makes more sense than improving the quality of education.

    In 2009 the Pentagon spent as much on public relations as they did on body armor in both Iraq and Afghanistan during 2004 to 2006. There were nearly as many employees (2009: 27,000 employees) responsible for recruitment, advertising and public relations as were employed at the Pentagon (2009: 30,000 employees).

    Yet, during this same time the military was unable to provide appropriate protective armor to vehicles and personnel. We all remember the stories of military families purchasing and mailing body armor to their sons and daughters who were in harms way. We also remember the stories about the inadequately protected Humvee’s and the IED’s designed to take out our military personnel. Perhaps you also remember the McGyver inventions used by military personnel to beef up their vehicles?

    Are you in reality suggesting perhaps the oversight authority (you and your friends on the Board of Education) is in need of burnishing its reputation while the front line (teachers) suffer the consequences of inadequate funding or support?

    • The $4.7 billion figure sounds large…but then again it probably appropriate considering the “all volunteer military” where only the poor, idealistic or properly incentivized choose to serve.  Its actually kind of a hard sell to get someone in the ideal 17-29 age bracket to sign up for war when they have so much to look forward to with community college, PS3 games, medical marijuana and the rest back home.  I’d actually be in favor of mandatory national service so that everyone in the 17-29 age bracket would owe two years of national service, no exceptions or waivers.  If you didn’t want to do military service, you could opt for peace core, conservation core, or something that helped someone other than yourself.  Would let us free up about $4 billion which Congress could spend in about 4 minutes before lunch.  The Army values I got included Selfless Service and I think that’s part of what’s missing in modern society (selfish service?)

      • One of the problems with your idea of mandatory national service is that it would take the Obamunists about two seconds to define voter registration in heavily Democrat urban areas as “national service”.

        It would just be more government paid, government run ACORN activism.

      • “If you didn’t want to do military service, you could opt for peace core, conservation core,…”  Or perhaps the apple core, Ms. Whitney, which the teacher who passed you in english/spelling should receive. A shining example of our failed teachers. You went to college?????

        I guess that’s one way to avoid pronouncing it as if it were spelled “corpse”, as our beloved president has done.

  8. Joe

    Why don’t you start with the County? The County has a significant number of teachers on staff. Work with their unions on merit pay, pension changes ….Then get the administration on board with similar changes for their compensation.

    It might not give you the shiny commercials you want others to pay for but at least it would give you more solid ground in your advocacy for change.

    • Example,

      I agree we should lead the way, however, the County Board has no authority by statute over the 1,800 employees or administrators. Our only employee we oversee is the Superintendent. I have requested a dialogue at an open meeting about the issues you raised, but it has yet to make one of our agendas due in large measure to the statute that keeps COE Boards out of the bargaining loop.  I think the statute should be changed and have been vocal on this issue.

      BTW- the results of “my shiny” commercials would be a second to none teaching force for Silicon Valley. Our children deserve the best teachers. The only way I see for us to attract them is by increasing the respect for the profession as a whole. I also believe ending tenure and paying teachers based on their overall performance is critical.

      The problems are huge but with bold leadership they are all surmountable.

      • Then start with the lone employee you have control over. Is the superintendent on merit pay already? Are his perks and pension plan financially reasonable? Assuming that he gets paid on goals, make it a goal to reform pay/tenure/pension for all his administration and all the teachers. He’ll get the motivation.

        That would be bold leadership.

      • From my point of view, the primary reason for the loss of respect for teachers has been their unions’ tactics, constant demands, and refusal to allow merit pay.  As in many professions, life has come full circle—the unions are now the problem, not the cure.

  9. > There were nearly as many employees (2009: 27,000 employees) responsible for recruitment, advertising and public relations as were employed at the Pentagon (2009: 30,000 employees).

    Oh, come on!

    Including recruiters as “public relations”? 

    Not just a stretch, but positively ignorant.

    Yet another example of the difficulty that moonbats have with advanced concepts, like words.  They seem to be chronically confused by the meaning of terms like “is”, “alone”, “marriage”, “tax increase”, “rich”, etc, etc.

  10. Ok – you wanna do good? 

    Let’s take some notions such as (

    There’s a concerted effort to better equip emerging leaders to fill in for the labor shortage that was supposed to come with baby boomer retirements in the article in Boulder, CO.  The leadership academy got people up to speed and prepared them to tackle issues large and small and captured the institutional wisdom of senior and retiring staff and allowed for learning to occur outside of the formal structure of the organization.

    Take the idea to our educational problems.  Its bigger than one school district, or even one county office of education, but I believe the solutions can start locally and work better.  Start an educational leadership initiative across multiple school districts.  Invite private, parochial and even charter schools to participate.  Encourage teachers young and old to collaborate outside of traditional lines of authority.  Encourage innovation and excellence, promoting competitions that engage the students academically as much as sports can engage them physically and emotionally.  Encourage cross training where you could draw your regular salary and teach at a different institution (even going from private to public or vice-versa) to let people share and know experiences and get to know first hand how high performing schools work.

    And work with accrediting institutions to include credentialing for guest scholars from business or other professions to train and enter the classroom for a fixed term to mix things up.  Could be a retired cop or firefighter or someone who ran a dry cleaners for 35 years.  Make it not only okay to bring some of those experiences into the public schools but reward it.  Create entrepreuneer clubs where students work with business people and learn a little about what it takes to run a business via classroom and practical activities.

    Offer teachers a chance to phase in and out of teaching and not loose seniority as part of the exchange program, perhaps working at a partner institution (local government, water district, etc) for a fixed term (1 year).  Let them broaden their horizons and share that with the students.  Maybe in the process developing new lesson plans that make academic subjects more approachable like how to explain biology in terms of a watershed and how the ecosystem of everyone from mountain stream to bay drainage are connected along the watershed.  Show how mercury from mining (as well emissions from daily driving that get trapped along with particulate matter on the road) enter the ecosystem via annual rainwater runoff.

    Anyway…I think this turned into another one of those too long posts that no one will ever read and the only comments it generate are that I talk to much…but hey…that’s my two cents.

  11. Joe,

    Teaching as a career fails to attract the best and brightest because public education is still mostly a government monolopy, and as such the best and brightest teachers don’t get rewarded as such.

    Imagine a world with real school choice.  Government funding goes to each student, who then chooses whatever school he wishes (let’s leave out religious schools for now).

    All of a sudden we have competition among all schools… schools that fail to attract students fail… and disappear.  Great schools thrive and expand… reaching more students.

    Guess what happens to the teaching profession?

    Great teachers are targetting by schools with lucrative offers… A great teacher, who can help the lives of many students, is rewarded… greatly!  Just like every other profession that doesn’t have a government monopoly!!!

    Now is the time, Joe.  With ObamaCare hindering medical career earning potential, and an over-abudnance of lawyers… now is the time to jump on the “Waiting for Superman” bandwagon and bring real positive change to the education system and the profession of teaching.

    $1 million to try to convince people that joining a backwards government monopoly is a better career choice than any number of careers which reward excellence?  I’d prefer we use the money to actually make education a lucrative career choice for the best and the brightest. Let’s keep the million and vote for school-choice candidates.

    Disappointed Joe, disappointed.

  12. > The idea of merit pay- is actually something that unions would be behind if the procedure was CLEARLY outlined and defined to ensure that a non-biased system was in place and not another broken system based on who you know not what you know.

    A “fair” system designed by stupid, corrupt people is ultimately going to be a stupid corrupt system.

    The idea that unions would support merit pay IF … IF … IF…. is just eyewash.

    Stop insulting us with all of your transparently self-serving unionist arguments.

    Unionists are only a tiny fraction of the work force and the ONLY thing that unionists care about is how to get more slop in the union supperdish.

    At the end of the day, the unionist attitude is “SCABS CAN GO TO HELL”.

    That ain’t the Golden Rule.

  13. Unions are an easy scapegoat at the moment, obviously there is a great dislike for the fact that an organization exists whose sole purpose is to defend a group of people and advocate for better wages, more respect, fidelity to equity, better schools, etc. The fascinating thing here is that no one seems to ponder the role of the administrators whom get paid on average 100K a year in helping to create and maintain “incompetent” teachers.

    I ask- whose job is it to observe and evaluate teachers BEFORE they are tenured? (as in at least THREE entire school years to 1) identify any issues and 2)decide how/if it’s possible to fix them) The ADMINISTRATOR’S The fact that “bad teachers” fall thru the cracks is not the Union’s fault, it’s the Administration that is either not present or apathetic to the teachers they have.
    If problems are not caught early, who then has the responsibility of beginning the process of getting rid of the teacher, even after “tenured”? the ADMINISTRATOR. And who is too lazy to do so? the ADMINISTRATOR. So what do they do? NOTHING or worse- they transfer or promote the incompetent individuals for the sake of getting them out of their hair or not having to actually work or feel uncomfortable. Administrators are lazy, and they collect a much larger paycheck. Union or no union, there are procedures and protocols in place to get rid of a teacher without escalating to the point of breaking the law. If a teacher is consistently not doing their job, there are steps that can be followed (in our district there are 5 steps!!) and the teacher can be released; but Administrators don’t want to go through the process, they would rather avoid the uncomfortable situation, or fear a lawsuit. Guess what? If you have your documentation, there can be no lawsuit. Is it timely? It can be, but then again Administrators are getting PAID to do this. It’s their JOB! Just as its they Union’s job, to defend the unit member. Union advocates need not agree with the person they are defending, just as a Public Defender need not believe their client is not guilty; but it is the Union’s DUTY to defend and advocate. A lot of times it’s not a pretty job, but much good has come from Unions and that cannot be overlooked just because there is an “anti-union” band wagon driving around.

    If people are going to talk about how broken the system is, perhaps we should refrain from choosing a single culprit. Education is multi-faceted and there are many reasons why schools and the teaching profession are hurting.

    The idea of merit pay- is actually something that unions would be behind if the procedure was CLEARLY outlined and defined to ensure that a non-biased system was in place and not another broken system based on who you know not what you know.  Of course, if we have no open conversations we will not know what we are capable; and finger pointing never leads to open dialogue it simply leads to hostility and closed mindedness.

    • Malinali,

      You make a cute argument.  It’s not the union’s fault that incompetent teachers are on the job, it’s the administrators for not firing them.  Who are we to blame the union for then protecting these incompetents? I mean, we all have to protect our own, right?

      Try to stick to your union message that all teachers are amazing and that’s why the firing rates are so low.  At least that way you’ll just sound corrupt instead of stupid.

  14. So, what else has “Greedy Joe” DiSalvo been up to?

    From the Almaden Times, Oct 15, Page 4:

    “County Board of Education Endorses Measure a parcel tax”

    “A resolution to support a parcel tax measure funding the Santa Clara County Healthy Kids Program was approved unanimously on Oct. 6 by the Santa Clara County Board of Education.”

    “If approved in the November election, Measure A would place a $29 tax on each parcel of land in the county for 10 years.”

    “The tax would generate up to $14 million annually to sustain the program, which provides medical, dental and vision benefits for about 15,000 county children who otherwise lack insurance coverage.”

    “Blah, blah, blah.  Blah, blah, blah, . . . for the children . . . . Blah, blah, blah.”

    This is simply outrageous.

    For starters, we have just had Obamacare crammed down our throats, so we can assume that somehere in the 2,500 page bill which no one read, this crap is already being paid for.

    Secondly, instead of taking $29 from parents who own parcels so that Joe DiSalvo can buy medical, dental, and vision benefits which they may not need or may have already paid for, just let the damn parents keep the $29 and spend it on their kids as they see fit.

    And thirdly, a $29 parcel tax is an EXTREMELY unfair tax. Owners of multiple small parcels will get hit hard.  Owners of mammoth land holdings worth billions of dollars, won’t notice it.  And the overwhelming majority of county residents who are renters, squatters, or homeless won’t even pay it at all.

    And what the hell is a board of education doing buying health insurance anyway?

    Arguably, Nintendo’s and XBOXes are far more educational and provide more tangible health benefits, especially since kids can now download and play videos on healthy lifestyles and self-medication from NetFlix.  Why not just use education dollars to give kids game consoles?

    Needless to say, this is a textbook example of intrusive busybody government at its worst.

    For heavens sake, reject this pointless, wasteful, overbearing, intrusive government interventionism.


  15. It is unfortunate that such closed minded people exist, such as “yawn” and “teachable moment” How are we to have an open conversation, if you cannot even refrain from reverting to your middle school self and attacking a person simply because they disagree with you? I believe individuals that are tunnel visioned and lacking in the ability to listen to other perspectives are the root of many of our societal problems. You operate from a place of ego and self righteousness, rather than truly thinking globally, universally. It is true that the minority of the American workforce belongs to a union, but it is also true that Unions have set the minimum bar for basic worker’s rights, and basic respectable working conditions (such as the 8 hour work day, being allowed to use the restroom when you have to, passing of OSHA, overtime pay etc etc) There is one thing that private industries do not do- and that is give away money out of the kindness of their hearts. Unions have worked tirelessly for the benefit of ALL workers. Whether you want to admit that or acknowledge it is your own personal issue. We continue to strive towards a better society for ALL members of our society not just union members.You’re welcomed.

    • Malinali,

      Yes, unions were once be relevant and good for society… during the Industrial Revolution.  Now that it’s 2010, their focus appears to be gathering money and power to themselves, and in the case of public unions this is to the detriment of society.

      Here’s an example of your own union’s self-interest: the killing of SB 1285.  SB 1285 would have mandated that teacher layoffs are evenly distributed over all schools instead of by seniority.  Why is this a good idea?  Because the worst performing schools tend to have the newest and youngest teachers (i.e. not tenured), and are therefore always hit the hardest during economic downturns.  The CTA used its substantial political influence to ensure this bill died because it would jeopardize your treasured stranglehold on seniority-based job security.  Because after all, seniority, not performance, is what makes a good teacher.

      Using strong language to attack your logic is not “middle school.”  You tried to put all the blame on administrators for incompetent teachers.  I destroyed that point.  Now you’re preaching your naive view of today’s unions and expecting that to convince people of your point of view.  What do you teach, anyway?  PE?

      Always blaming budgets for the problems in education and not looking at teachers and their union is as close-minded as it gets.

    • > There is one thing that private industries do not do- and that is give away money out of the kindness of their hearts.

      Oh.  Are you saying that public employers DO give away money out of the kindness of their hearts?


      And whose money are they kindly giving away?

      Is it the same money that they take away from taxpayers by means of gun-toting revenue agents?  Yes, it’s a fact.  IRS tax agents DO carry guns.

      > Unions have worked tirelessly for the benefit of ALL workers.
      . . . .
      > We continue to strive towards a better society for ALL members of our society not just union members.

      Well, this is a lie.  “ALL workers” excludes SCABS of course. And SCABS are the MAJORITY of working people.

      Unions have NOT “tirelessly worked for the benefit of” SCABS.  They beat up SCABS and make sure that they are NOT allowed to work.

      • I concur with Malinali, you two are just being juvenile. “What do you teach- PE?” as if the subject that she or any teacher teaches makes them more or less competent. And if unions hadn’t been around, the SCABS you so like to address also would not have basic things like minimum wage.

        Rather then sticking to the original article people are getting side tracked on petty things. What a waste of life you fools are.

        • Mr. O’Hara,

          What an excellent rebuttal to every point we’ve raised.  Your post clearly explains how administrators are the root of incompetent teachers, how public unions only serve the people, and why SB 1285 was a bad idea.

          Snide remarks don’t change the logic of my posts.  They just throw off morons like you without any critical thinking skills.

          As for Malinali, I certainly hope she teaches PE.  English or History would be travesty.

        • > And if unions hadn’t been around, the SCABS you so like to address also would not have basic things like minimum wage.

          You gotta beat up a SCAB every now and then to make sure they appreciate their minimum wage.