Becoming good at something most of the time requires support, instruction and encouragement from others. First of all, we need instruction from experts, and second, because we need encouragement in the beginning when practice is mostly about making mistakes and correcting them. Parents and teachers know this well and use positive reinforcement all the time (sometimes even too much).
Positive feedback and acknowledgment are really important for anyone, especially at an early age. For a child or a student, it is natural to follow directions where they feel accepted and supported because they want to feel validated. Their world is determined by the feedback of others. They see themselves through the eyes of others.
This is not too different when we talk about adults also. Positive feedback and support of teachers in our society isn't different. We need acknowledgment also to do our best and to not become discouraged, tired and burned out. For example if a teacher doesn't get support from colleagues, from the society she/he has been working for, that teacher probably will leave the profession sooner or later. If I try to apply this idea to the education system, especially the success of different countries' educational systems, I feel this is another unnoticed but important factor, policy makers should recognize and consider.
The issue is so complex, that it is really hard to state something that is unquestionable. There are so many variables that influence a country's education performance. But if we would like to understand this performance, we have to try to discover each variable in this complex function and the connections between these variables.
Reading many articles and resources about PISA, articles from NCEE I always find information that support this viewpoint.
For example in the “Who wants to become a teacher”(1) article the authors find that:
“The academic profile of students who expect to work as teachers varies, but in many OECD countries, students who expect to work as teachers have poorer mathematics and reading skills than other ambitious students who expect to work as professionals but not as teachers.”
Why is that? There are probably so many explanations. In my opinion, students always try to choose the most rewarding, satisfying career for themselves and this is alright. If someone is a top student and he/she has the ability to achieve his/her dreams after 16-18 years of studying, it is a reasonable decision to choose a career that suits their personality and provides a high status in society. Teaching might satisfy the first criteria for many top students because it is one of the occupations today that really makes sense, but in most countries – including the US – a schoolteacher profession fails to pass the second criteria. Being a teacher is not a supported occupation by the government; or at least not on the material level.(2)
“PISA shows that, on average, a higher percentage of students expects to work as teachers in countries where teachers’ salaries are higher.”
This statement supports the conclusion above. If there is a bigger chance to live an honored, respected life in a society as a teacher, a higher percentage of the best students will chose the educational career. Moreover, as we see it in Shanghai-China, even if the salary is not too high but the society respects and supports teachers, skilled students are still likely to choose a teaching career and do world class education.(3)
It is more and more obvious to everyone that high performance education depends on educational policies, quality teachers, the cooperation level between schools and families. In addition, the latest research shows deeper and more complex connections between teaching and society. Teaching cannot be judged purely on the grades of students as an engineer cannot be judged by the final quality of the building especially if the contractor is not obliged to follow the instructions of the engineer. The effectiveness of teaching seems to depend on more components. These components contain the value of education in a society, salary and benefits of teachers, training level of educators and the approach of studying by students and many more.
Improving the quality of education is a circle that starts with investment, where the price of the investment is determined by the gap between the attributes, values, and virtues of the present society and the values of the future society. If education is something that our society supports, respects, and values, attracting the top students will not be too difficult. However, if the teacher occupation does not provide high status in a country, even paying more won't attract the suitable, high quality, committed candidates who will be able to change the quality of education in the future.