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The role and responsibilities of elementary and secondary school teachers have undergone a significant evolution since the publication of the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Education. Historically, teachers have been viewed as purveyors of content knowledge and academic skills, but teachers in the early twenty-first century have also become ambassadors to multicultural communities and promulgators of democracy. As expectations for teacher performance have increased, so too has the status of teachingthe term teaching profession has become commonplace.

Conventionally viewed as dispensers of knowledge, teachers are increasingly perceived as facilitators or managers of knowledge. They are often thought to be colearners with their students. Few modern teachers would try to claim intellectual hegemony in the classroom; such a claim would not stand the challenge of increasingly sophisticated students. There is too much to know and too many sources of knowledge outside the classroom that can easily be brought to bear within school walls by students themselves. Teachers teach, of course, but they do not simply dispense information to their students. Teachers are also intellectual leaders who create opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know and what they know how to do.

Responsibilities of Elementary and Secondary School Teachers

Public school teachers spend an average of 49.3 hours per week meeting their responsibilities, including 11.2 hours per week on noncompensated duties. Customary responsibilities for teachers include planning and executing instructional lessons, assessing students based on specific objectives derived from a set curricula, and communicating with parents.

This list of seemingly simple tasks belies the complexity of the job. It was once the norm for teachers to address the needs of large groups of students via standard lesson plans and stock practice. This is no longer the case. Teachers of the early twenty-first century must create and modify lessons, fitting them to the diverse instructional needs and abilities of their students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that any student with an identified disability receive a written Individualized Education Program stating the modifications that must be implemented by any teacher working with that particular child. Students' needs run the gamut from learning disabilities to giftednessa broad range that compels teachers to behave in certain ways.

Unlike their predecessors, twenty-first-century teachers expect to deal with the dictates of standardized testing and curricula to match. Signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act is simply one very visible indication of the emphasis on local accountability for student performance. The bill requires that all schools display proof of meeting a minimal set of academic standards, as defined by each state. States must begin implementing annual high-stakes testingtesting upon which important decisions such as passing and failing depend. These tests will concentrate, at least initially, on reading and mathematics in grades three through eight.

As always, teachers are responsible for classroom management and discipline. This aspect of a teacher's job shows no signs of growing easierquite the contrary. According to the U.S. Department of Education, during the period from 1992 to 1996, 1,581,000 teachers were victims of nonfatal crimes that occurred while at school. Recognizing the challenge of student discipline, the No Child Left Behind Act includes steps for providing a safer work environment for teachers as well as students. Opportunities for professional development and training in positive methods of discipline abound.

Teachers are expected to use computer-based technology with increasing frequency and proficiency. The technology boom of the 1990s was accompanied by many efforts to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching and into students' learning. Although there is legitimate concern about the ultimate value of the use of technology in schools, there is little doubt that considerable resources have been expended to advance the digital revolution. The E-rate, for examplea federal program that provides targeted discounts to schools and libraries with the goal of increasing access to the Internet and other telecommunications servicesfunneled $3.65 billion into schools from 1997 to 2002. The federal government spent another $275 million from 1999 to 2002 to train teachers to use technology via the PT 3 program.

Changing societal demographics have forced changes in the practice of teaching. There are, for instance, more than ninety languages spoken in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Teachers all over the nation work with students and parents from many different cultures. Teachers themselves are students of culture. They create classroom environments to celebrate various ethnic and religious traditions. They are expected to treat children and their families sensitively so as to avoid the proliferation of stereotypical images of races, cultures, or religions.

Teachers continue to exhibit a rich history of participation in educational and political groups, committees, and events. In 1996, 42 percent of public school teachers participated in committees dealing with local curriculum. On the national level, teachers are members of unions that include the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as their local affiliates.

Qualifications of Elementary and Secondary Teachers

State governments determine their own requirements for a teaching license. In addition to a college degree with course work in appropriate areas, more than thirty states require a national teacher examination, such as the Praxis Series. Developed by the Educational Testing Service, the Praxis Series is designed to assess a teacher's knowledge of basic subject matter including reading, writing, and mathematics. Praxis also evaluates a prospective teacher in two other areas: general knowledge of the field of education and knowledge within the teacher's specialty content area.

Many states recognize licenses earned in other states, thus a license earned in one state may be used to work in another state. This process is referred to as "reciprocity" of licensing. Teachers who are interested in pursuing additional endorsementsthat is, approvals to teach other specialtiesdo so most often by taking additional college course work. They can also attempt to acquire national certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, but they may still have to gain a state license in order to teach in a public school. In 2001 the NEA estimated that there would be 100,000 National Board Certified teachers by 2005.

Teachers also join professional honorary societies. For example, teachers may be invited to become a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in education that seeks to inspire high teaching standards. Kappa Delta Pi and other education honorary societies recognize the actions of individual teachers and through membership distinguish them as exceptional educators.

There were approximately 2.78 million public school teachers working in K12 education during the 19981999 academic year. It was estimated that by 2008 the number of teachers needed to meet the demands of a growing student population would be3.46 million. To address an increasing teacher shortage, the No Child Left Behind Act suggests that state governments and school districts use alternative means of licensing and endorsing teachers, including fast-track teacher education programs for professionals outside education. The act also supports various incentives to keep teachers on the job, including merit pay for practicing educators and performance-based bonuses.

Research on Elementary and Secondary Teachers

Teacher quality has been said to be the number one school-related influence on student achievement. Although research on what constitutes a quality teacher is often the subject of debate, there are some findings on teacher quality that are rarely contested. These suggest that it is what teachers do in classrooms that matters. Research has shown that teachers can improve student achievement when they communicate high expectations, avoid criticism, reward truly praiseworthy behavior, and provide abundant opportunities for success (academic learning time) on material over which students are tested.


According to the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Education, the average salary in 1969 for a public school teacher was $8,320 at the elementary level and $8,840 at the secondary level. The average salary for a male secondary public school teacher was $9,160, and the average for a female public school secondary teacher was $8,670. While the average salaries have increased, the differences in salaries between elementary and secondary teachers as well as the disparity in salary between male and female educators have diminished. These changes in salaries reflect changes in attitudes about equal pay for equal work and the increasing responsibilities of female educators. The current public school teacher workforce is approximately 74 percent female.

A survey performed in 19951996 by the NEA found elementary and secondary public school teachers with a mean salary of $35,549. The range of salaries, however, is quite remarkable. Connecticut consistently ranks number one; in 19992000 its average teacher salary was $52,401. South Dakota falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, with an average salary that year of $29,072.

With approximately 90 percent of public school teachers classified as white in 2001, the racial demographics of teachers have not changed as noticeably as the student populations they serve. What has changed significantly is the number of advanced degrees obtained by teachers. In 1970, 25 percent of public school teachers received an advanced degree. The NEA reported in 1997 that this number had more than doubled to 56 percent54 percent with master's degrees and 2 percent with doctoral degrees.

See also: American Federation of Teachers; International Teachers Associations; National Education Association; No Child Left Behind Act, 2001; Teacher Education; Teacher Employment; Teacher Evaluation; Teacher Learning Communities; Teacher Unions.


Brophy, Jere E., and Good, Thomas L. 1986. "Teacher Behavior and Student Achievement." In Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3rd edition, ed. Merlin C. Wittrock. New York: Macmillan.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997. U.S. Public Law 105-17. U.S. Code. Vol. 20, secs. 1400 et seq.

National Center for Education Statistics. 1998. Indicators of School Crime and Safety:2001. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

National Education Association. 1997. Status of the American Public School Teacher, 199596: Highlights. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

National Education Association. Research Division. 1970. NEA Research Bulletin. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Solmon, Lewis C., and Firetag, Kimberly. 2002. "The Road to Teacher Quality." Education Week 21 (27):48.

internet resources

American Federation of Teachers. 2000. "Teacher Salaries Fail to Keep Up with Inflation: AFT Releases Annual State-by-State Teacher Salary Survey." <>.

Cuban, Larry. 1998. "Cuban Speech." Tapped In. <>.

National Education Association. 2001. "Teachers and Students Excelling Together: Ensuring the Quality Teachers America Needs." <>.

Kimberly B. Waid

Robert F. McNergney

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Psychologists and other social scientists since the early twentieth century have been concerned with learning and effective teaching. A century ago, education in the United States was a troubled institution. School curricula were seen as outdated and irrelevant, teachers were often illprepared, and students often displayed low levels of motivation. In light of these circumstances, social scientists began to investigate ways to improve the educational system. The move toward more progressive educational policies based on psychological research has continued to the present.

Early questions revolved around the nature of the classroom. That is, what were the relative merits of lectures, classroom discussions, and demonstrations and activities? When the move from prepared lectures to discussion took place, there was initial enthusiasm for discussions as fostering greater learning. Similarly, the introduction of demonstrations and activities engendered considerable enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the research on the different approaches has been inconclusive; students show an aptitude for learning across a wide variety of classroom formats.

Just as educators have tried to restructure classroom dynamics, they have engaged in a constant quest to adopt the latest technologies for their pedagogy. Teachers have made use of radio, television, and even the telephone for delivery of educational information. The adoption of the Internet in education continues the technological innovation. So far, however, different classroom formats and technologies have not led to systematic improvements in pedagogy. Each technology appears to have strengths, but widespread and generalized improvements in learning resist easy development.

One of the earliest, successful pedagogical innovations was the Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) developed by the psychologist Fred Keller (18991996). This approach was based on behavioral theory and featured self-pacing geared toward mastery of a task. Keller proposed including lectures and demonstrations only as vehicles of motivation, not as information delivery systems. Even though the approach was thoroughly grounded in behaviorism, Keller stressed the importance of the personal and social aspects of the learning situation.

Empirical research has documented PSI as an effective pedagogical approach. However, teachers never adopted it universally, even at the height of its popularity. Nonetheless, this system still has adherents who use it successfully.

Theories in cognitive psychology prevalent in the early twenty-first century highlight the idea that the creation of cognitive schemas enhances learning. Further, the use of so-called deep processing (e.g., self-reflective thought, integration of ideas, writing to learn) appears to benefit learners. One little-known, but promising, phenomenon that was rediscovered and applied to educational research in the late 1980s, the testing effect, is explicable in cognitive theory results. The act of taking a test can itself foster better retention than actually studying the material. The advantage of testing accrues when learners must generate answers and process multiple concepts in essay-type items. In contrast, recognition tests, such as those featuring multiple-choice items, and repetitive studying do not reliably lead to as complete learning.

The apparent advantage of repetitive studying is evident for tests taken immediately after studying, but this spurious advantage disappears with delayed testing. Theorists speculate that the immediate reinforcement associated with repeated exposure to material to be learned leads to misplaced feelings of confidence and mastery on the part of students. Further, the difficulty associated with generating answers on tests creates in the learner the impression that learning is incomplete and insufficient, even as it actually benefits the person. Researchers have suggested that learning is enhanced when students have to overcome difficulties. The paradox is that when students encounter such difficulties, it facilitates memory for the material but results in the subjective feeling of lack of progress toward the learning goal.

The fundament that unifies the various types of active learning is the creation of a network of interrelated ideas. In the early twenty-first century, cognitive and learning theory takes it as an article of faith that a cognitive schema provides interconnections among related information, a structure that facilitates assimilation of new information and effective retrieval of already-learned material.


Psychologists and educators have adopted the principles of active learning as critical components of classes. Historically, demonstrations by a teacher that illustrated a particular phenomenon constituted the approach to active learning, even though it may have been only the teacher who was active. Engagement on the part of the students is the concept of active learning that prevails in the early twenty-first century, and it can take a variety of forms. Some common types of active learning include writing to learn, cooperative learning, interteaching, and just-in-time teaching.

In writing to learn, the main purpose is not communication; rather, it is learning. Writing about a topic enables a student to ruminate on the ideas and to synthesize information, thereby solidifying learning. When students engage in low-stakes writing, a teacher does not assess the content or the style. The focus is on the development of ideas. Subsequently, high-stakes writing can be a means of assessing the quality of the writing and the knowledge of ideas. In theory, writing to learn involves students evaluating ideas and information, which presumably helps them develop schemas and networks of interrelated ideas.

Cooperative learning involves the creation of a social setting to foster knowledge acquisition and retention. Educators have developed several different variations. The actual classroom process may differ significantly across the different types of cooperative learning. Empirical research has revealed a consistent, sometimes large, effect for cooperative learning compared to either competitive learning or individualistic learning. Investigators have documented the advantages of cooperative learning at all academic levels.

In cooperative learning, several students work together, taking responsibility not only for their own learning but also for that of the other group members. The critical components of cooperative learning include shared responsibility so that all members of the group learn, individual accountability for progress toward learning, face-to-face interaction, development of interpersonal skills, and self-monitoring by the group. Thus, cooperative learning relies on elements of cognitive theory and social psychological theory of group processes.

A development originating in the early 2000s that has its origins in Kellers PSI approach and involves structure, active learning, and cooperation is called interteaching. Interteaching places the responsibility for learning largely on the student, rather than on the teacher disseminating information via a lecture. In this approach, the instructor provides questions to guide students in a focused activity, and students then review the material to be learned and discuss it with fellow students in small groups. Finally, the students can request that the teacher address questions they have regarding the material.

Interteaching, like its predecessors, may not introduce elements that do not already exist in the classroom. What it involves is a rearrangement of behaviors and a redistribution of time devoted to individual and group work, discussion, lecturing, and out-of-class preparation. Like the other types of active learning, interteaching draws on cognitive theory but relies on a significant element of behavioral theory in its application.

Just-in-time teaching (JiTT), whose conceptual basis developed in the 1960s but was made practical through computer technology in the 1990s, involves student learning combined with the use of the Internet. Students take responsibility for learning specified material and for recognizing what aspects of that material they do not understand. JiTT relies on students to begin learning the material before class. Then the student communicates uncertainties to the teacher shortly before class time so the teacher can use class time most effectively to address the weaknesses in student learning. Class can be oriented toward what students do not know. Ideally, JiTT also engenders a spirit of cooperation between the students and the teacher.


Psychologists are often on the forefront of adopting new teaching technologies. The Internet and presentation software have become staples of the contemporary classroom. Preliminary evidence suggests that computer-based teaching can lead to greater learning than standard lectures when multimedia presentations are constructed so that the different components of a presentation are pedagogically integrated. The presence of excessive sound and graphics can lead to cognitive overload and reduced learning.

Theorists have speculated that multimedia presentations can enhance learning because the presentations foster multiple dual coding, that is, a combination of visual and verbal learning. This approach can increase student motivation while helping students encode concepts.

Presentation software can produce increased learning, but it has received criticism as being essentially a static medium that reduces teacher creativity and flexibility in the classroom. Some educators have responded to this criticism by noting that the software itself is not the problem; rather, the use of the software can be problematic if it does not lead students to process the material deeply.

Historically, new technologies have emerged and have become widely used in the classroom. Initial research often supports the efficacy of the new approaches, but sometimes it is not clear whether the increased student achievement stems from the new technology or from the additional enthusiasm of the teacher for the innovation.


Bjork, Robert A. 1994. Memory and Metamemory Considerations in the Training of Human Beings. In Metacognition: Knowing about Knowing, eds. Janet Metcalfe and Arthur P. Shimamura, 185205. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Boyce, Thomas E., and Philip N. Hineline. 2002. Interteaching: A Strategy for Enhancing the User-Friendliness of Behavioral Arrangements in the College Classroom. Behavior Analyst 25 (2): 215226.

Novak, Gregor M., Evelyn T. Patterson, Andrew D. Gavrin, and Wolfgang Christian. 1999. Just-In-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bernard C. Beins

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teach·er / ˈtēchər/ • n. a person who teaches, esp. in a school. DERIVATIVES: teach·er·ly adj.

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