TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

So, what makes someone want to be a teacher?

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No one is surprised when 9th and 10th grade students want to be rock stars, professional athletes, or YouTube celebrities. But when some of them want to be teachers, it's worth taking a moment to unpack what's motivating those students—and figure out how to leverage that motivation to inspire others—especially when it comes to attracting the most talented students into the profession.

High school students in 60 countries taking the international PISA tests were asked to identify the career they expected to have at 30. A study by researchers at the University at Buffalo, OECD, and UNESCO compared the student responses to characteristics of each country's teaching profession and social values. In order to get some insight into the motivations of the most talented students, the researchers then grouped the students by performance on the PISA's math component.

What was most related to student interest in teaching? Salary, clearly. The researchers looked at relative strength of teacher salaries in the various countries. They estimate that, for example, if the U.S.'s teaching salary increased by 20 percent (from $62,000 to about $76,000) so that it was in line with the OECD average, the odds that students would want to be teachers would increase by 38 percent.

The researchers also looked at other sources of survey data to determine what characteristics of occupations citizens in each country value. In the U.S., for example, 83 percent of people value having an interesting job, but this study found no relation at all between society valuing interesting jobs and students' interest in teaching.

What was associated with increased odds of student interest in teaching was when a country had a higher percentage of people who value jobs that have many responsibilities, and, to a lesser extent, value jobs that are respected.

Importantly, when student performance on the PISA's math component was considered, a different picture emerged. For the middle- and bottom-performing students, increases in salary were significantly associated with increased odds of interest in teaching. But when it came to those top-performing students wanting to be teachers, money ceased to matter as much—what was most significant was a country's high value on pursuing responsible and respected jobs.

So, interest in teaching—particularly for top high school students—may be tied up in complex social values and intrinsic motivations. But when working to widen the pipeline, more money certainly helps.