Teachers: Our most important resource

Rice is committed to our community, “and we cannot be committed to our community without being committed to our teachers.”

Teachers: Our most important resource

Earlier this month, we celebrated World Teachers’ Day, a day set aside to recognize the incredible importance of teachers to our society and an opportunity to extend appreciation for all they do. As we said then, a day is not enough. Nor are simple words of appreciation. Teachers, as well as students and public schools, also deserve our support. Over the next few weeks, we will dive into each of those areas of support, beginning today, with our most important resource: teachers.

As Dean Bruce wrote last week, Rice is committed to our community, “and we cannot be committed to our community without being committed to our teachers. That commitment means appreciating the critical role they play in shaping our future, but it cannot end with a simple recognition of what is obvious to us all … beyond the appreciation and recognition of the difficulty of their profession, they deserve our support.”

Why do we need to support our teachers?

It seems like a ridiculous question to ask, right? And to answer it, we could simply redirect you to our last blog. However, it is a question worth asking. The list of reasons is long, but there are four that we want to highlight which are more pertinent at this moment: the recent politics involving teachers, the evolution of the teaching profession, the cultural and societal circumstances affecting teachers at present, and the profits of a career spent in the classroom.


Worst things first. As the midterms approach, probably as you are, we are simply exhausted with talking about politics. However, because we believe so strongly in the importance of teachers, this must be addressed.

With each impending election, political parties find a new demographic to scapegoat for the ills of society. This has included minorities, refugees, doctors, nurses, politicians, lawyers, athletes, celebrities, CEOs, news media, social media, the under educated, the over educated, white collar, blue collar, fly-over states, border states, coastal states … you get the idea. No one is safe from the altar of political gain, and members of all parties bring a steady stream of new offerings.

In a recent Forbes article, author Peter Greene said “The politicizing of everything means that we no longer view problems as problems to be solved, but as events to be spun for power acquisition.” This certainly appears to be at play in current political conversations around teachers. Politics affecting education is nothing new, but never have we seen the focus of this politicization be so overtly trained on teachers. From January 2021 to February 2022, more than 150 bills were introduced across the country aimed at restricting what teachers can teach.

As to be expected, teachers are bearing the weight of the rhetoric. In July of this year, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) shared results from a recent survey of their membership which showed that nearly 90 percent of respondents believe schools have become too politicized.

“AFT members were on the frontlines of the first wave of the pandemic, but in many ways the last year was even harder” due to “mask wars, culture wars, the war on truth, or the devastation in Uvalde,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Not surprisingly, that same survey showed a sharp rise in respondents' job dissatisfaction, increasing from 41 percent in 2020 to 74 percent today. We are seeing similar sentiments locally. This summer, the Charles Butt Foundation released results from their 2022 Texas Teacher Poll that showed 77 percent of Texas teachers were considering leaving the profession.

With all of the responsibilities teachers fulfill, including educator, disciplinarian, coach, counselor, friend, encourager, protector, mentor, and so on, there simply is no room to add political pawn to the list.

The Glasscock School Response
These tumultuous times have created an environment of fear and uncertainty for our teachers -- feelings that make a difficult job even more so. Where possible, we speak truth to power, but as a school of continuing studies, shifting the swelling tides of politics is simply not our strength. Our strength is in education. As such, we are not able to change the current course, but we can help teachers navigate the way. We do this through:

  1. Education - As more rules and restrictions find their way into our schools, they do so with a shocking lack of clarity or direction for teachers. To mitigate this, we are adding crucial conversations into our curriculum to provide as much clarity as possible. Additionally, through OpenRICE, which offers free, online sessions, we produced Teaching in a Politicized World, a teacher-led panel discussion addressing this important topic.
  2. Facilitation - In addition to finding ways to add information to our programming, we are also adding time, allowing for teachers to lead each other as peers in a safe and supportive environment. These forums allow teachers to not just learn from instruction, but from each other as they navigate this crucial moment.
  3. Curation - Supporting teachers does not just mean giving them more work to do, even if that work makes their job easier and them more effective in it. Most recently, our efforts have expanded to not just providing teaching resources, but providing resources for teachers. Earlier this month, we provided Self-Care Meditation for Educators. These brief, on-demand guided experiences are designed for teachers specifically, can fit within their busy schedules, and are viewable as often as needed. Self care and stress management are critical for our teachers, and we will continue to find ways to curate support and self-care resources for them.


If you are not a teacher or closely in contact with one, your perspective on what teachers do is likely colored by your own childhood education. Thinking on this conjures images of lessons taught at blackboards, reading from a small plastic chair with children circled round, or assigning chapters from classic literature that probably seemed as if it was written in a foreign language to your teenage mind.

While echoes of those visions still exist, teaching today is wholly different from generations passed. Today, teachers have evolved beyond this old way of teaching, often referred to as “sage on a stage,” whereby a teacher lectures almost exclusively. This tactic has given way to a new methodology known as “guide on the side,” which sees teachers act as facilitators, engaging students in first-hand learning through projects and experiences, steering students to discover knowledge for themselves. Simply put, students learn more effectively by doing as opposed to just listening. Additionally, opposed to becoming information memorizers, students become active problem solvers and curious learners, skills necessary for thriving in our new knowledge economy.

As this evolution began to pick up steam, Judith Taack Lanier, Distinguished Professor of Education at Michigan State University, described the transformation in education this way:

“Leading the way are thousands of teachers who are rethinking every part of their jobs -- their relationship with students, colleagues, and the community; the tools and techniques they employ; their rights and responsibilities; the form and content of curriculum; what standards to set and how to assess whether they are being met; their preparation as teachers and their ongoing professional development; and the very structure of the schools in which they work. In short, teachers are reinventing themselves and their occupation to better serve schools and students.”

Learning new ways of thinking and skills to better accomplish your job is a difficult task. We see it daily as we guide professionals in the attainment of new knowledge at the Glasscock School. Teachers across the entire PreK-12 spectrum are striving to better support our students, not for greater financial gain or promotions to corner offices, but simply and admirably for the sake of their students. They deserve our full support in this endeavor.

The Glasscock School Response
Our Rice Center for Education’s entire catalog of programs for PreK-12 educators, from one-day workshops to our Master of Arts in Teaching degree, is formulated to help teachers learn and facilitate contemporary teaching methods. While a university may conjure up images of tweed-jacketed professors lecturing through a cloud of chalk dust, that’s simply not the case at Rice. We are a research university--an important distinction that simply means we analyze and test what works, and then we implement based on results. Not only do we teach it, we model it. With few exceptions, our programs are immersive, creative and participatory experiences that engage teachers the same way we teach them to engage their students.


Being a teacher today is hard. The political climate and professional evolution alone make the field difficult, but other factors at present add to the challenge, including the rough hand dealt to us the last 5 years: Hurricane Harvey (2017), Tropical Storm Imelda (2019), COVID-19 Pandemic (2020), and the Texas Ice Storm (2021).

The effects of these events alone set educational achievement back, but when added to the economic situation many of our PreK-12 students face, these events create exponential challenges. In Houston, 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This staggering statistic is pregnant with implications for academic success. A 2017 report from the American Psychological Association speaks to the situation:

“Research indicates that children from low-SES (socio-economic status) households and communities develop academic skills slower than children from higher SES groups (Morgan, Farkas, Hillemeier, & Maczuga, 2009). For instance, low SES in childhood is related to poor cognitive development, language, memory, socioemotional processing, and consequently poor income and health in adulthood. The school systems in low-SES communities are often under-resourced, negatively affecting students’ academic progress and outcomes (Aikens & Barbarin, 2008). Inadequate education and increased dropout rates affect children’s academic achievement, perpetuating the low-SES status of the community.”

This challenge has been further exacerbated by the pandemic. Before 2020, just 47 percent of students in HISD were considered kindergarten ready, and in the first year of the pandemic, pre-k enrollment dropped by 23 percent. Our students are starting the race from well behind the starting line, and our teachers are striving every day to help them catch up.

This reality doesn’t just impact our youngest learners, though. Academic deficits from COVID learning loss are affecting students across grade-levels. A 2021 analysis by McKinsey & Company found that “the impact of the pandemic on K–12 student learning was significant, leaving students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year.” The responsibility for making up this lost ground is mostly falling to teachers, who themselves are still navigating their own experiences with the pandemic.

The effects are not limited to academics, however. That same 2021 analysis, along with thousands of others, found “the crisis had an impact on not just academics but also the broader health and well-being of students, with more than 35 percent of parents very or extremely concerned about their children’s mental health.” And again, many communities are looking to teachers to help students navigate the social and emotional deficits created by the pandemic, adding yet another task to our over-burdened educators.

The Glasscock School Response
For more than five decades, the Glassock School has provided teacher training and support to our community. Today, through our Rice Center for Education, we offer programming that spans the entire PreK-12 continuum. These programs are critical to supporting our local education ecosystem, but current circumstances have required that we do even more. In recent years, we have expanded our efforts to include more free resources customized to meeting immediate challenges, including programming through our OpenRICE initiative, which offers free, online lessons to our community. Additionally, through philanthropic support, we have offered programming and resources to help teachers navigate these critical moments, including online teachers summits, resource guides and customized lesson plans.

One of the values of the Glasscock School is our ability to meet the moment with agility and responsiveness. We will continue to lean into this strength as the teaching environment evolves to ensure our teachers have a place to turn for guidance, resources and support.


To be clear, no one becomes a teacher to amass personal wealth. However, considering the crucial role they play in shaping our future, current teacher salaries are, at best, laughable and, at worst, criminal.

Currently, the prospect of becoming a teacher means committing to a lifetime of struggling financially compared to many other professions. The average starting salary for a new teacher in Texas is $41,089 per year, only slightly above what the Economic Policy Institute identifies as the Minimum Living Wage, and the average for all teachers is just $58,887. Adjusted for inflation, teachers in Texas, on average, have taken a pay cut every year for the last four years.

To add insult to injury, if you retired as a Texas teacher, then you have not seen a cost-of-living raise since 2004, according to the Texas Retired Teacher Association. In a recent study conducted by the bipartisan nonprofit Equable, Texas teacher retirement benefits are worse than any other state in the country, except for Louisiana.

There is good news here in Houston, however. Under HISD leadership and as part of the plan to improve district schools, the school board recently approved a new budget that includes an approximate 11 percent average pay increase for all district teachers. Additionally, the starting pay for a new teacher increased by more than 8 percent, from $56,869 to $61,500. This is a great step for Houston, but more must be done.

The Glasscock School Response
As stated above regarding politics, our ability to move the needle on public policy is limited. However, this is an issue that we cannot abide, so we are going to affect change where we can. Simply put, if you aspire to dedicate your career to teaching, we believe your education should be free. The Glasscock School currently offers three paths for becoming a teacher: teacher certification, alternative teacher certification and the Master of Arts in Teaching. We are currently working to secure funding so that any teacher who enters one of these programs will not pay a single cent towards their education. Is it bold? Yes. Is it unconventional? Yes. And that is exactly why it is Rice.

To be clear, we are not there yet. But we will not rest until this goal becomes a reality.

In addition to this effort, we are also seeking ways to further reduce the cost of our teacher development offerings. Providing educational opportunities at the level expected of Rice and that our teachers deserve is not done by cutting corners. It takes time and talent, both of which require funding. We are fortunate to have the support of multiple organizations and individuals who share our passion for and belief in teachers. Their support allows us to provide Rice-level excellence in programming, resources, and materials, while also keeping costs manageable for teachers and school districts. Together, we aim to do even more.

These are four pressing realities creating untenable circumstances for our teachers. Given time, these four could be replaced with 400 more. All of which are added to the list of existing realities that make the profession so challenging.

Lost within the statistics and stories that sometimes paint a grim picture are the accomplishments of our teachers. In ideal circumstances, the effect they are having on students’ lives is nothing short of inspirational; considering the current challenges, it is absolutely heroic. As such, they deserve our full, unwavering support, in word and in deed.

How can you support our teachers?

Like so many challenges facing our society today, the weight of the issues can be overwhelming and knowing where to begin is difficult. But, you are not powerless to affect change. As a matter of fact, you are absolutely critical to it. Below, we have outlined a few practical things that you can do to help support our teachers.

  1. Encouragement - Because it is easy it is often overlooked, but we cannot overstate how powerful a positive word is to our educators. A simple card, handwritten note or brief email is just the fuel needed to push through a difficult day. If you have students in school, encourage their teachers. If you don’t, contact one of your former teachers and thank them for the impact they had on your life. If not that, find the closest school to where you live and send a single note to the entire staff. Five minutes of your time can produce a school-year worth of motivation.
  2. Advocacy - The power of your voice is not limited to just encouragement. It can also drive action that impacts our teachers. Contact your local representative and express your desire for greater support for our teachers. If they and other elected officials are not doing enough in this regard, vote for someone who will. You can also consider attending your local school board meeting to provide your voice to critical issues, or run for school board yourself.
  3. Volunteer - Most public schools have many opportunities to get involved and lend a helping hand. Reading programs, mentorship, classroom assistance, administration, booster clubs--there are endless ways that you can get involved. If you live within HISD, you can start here, or you can contact your local school for opportunities. Each volunteer helps lighten the load for our teachers.
  4. Give - Everything is bigger in Texas except our educational investment. Texas ranks 44th nationally in per student funding for education. Solving that begins with number 2 on this list, but there are opportunities to make an immediate impact through philanthropic gifts. There are numerous organizations in Houston and throughout Texas that provide incredible support to educators, all funded by donations. Find one that you believe in, and, if possible, consider making a donation to help further their mission. You can also assist the Glasscock School. As stated above, we aim to make all of our teacher certification and preparation programs free of charge to aspiring teachers, along with numerous other programs we offer to support current teachers. As a fully self-funded school at Rice, we are only able to accomplish our work through enrollment fees and charitable giving. A gift to the Rice Center for Education removes financial barriers to help support our teachers.

It's clear that we have many challenges to overcome as we support our teachers, but, as President Kennedy said at Rice 60 years ago, we take on these challenges “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

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Rice University Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies - MS-550
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Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies - MS-550
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Rice University
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