There is a reason why E.R. Braithwaite's book, "To Sir, with Love," is an enduring classic. A great teacher is both intelligent and informed and has the ability to inspire young minds toward positive achievements.

Education is aided by school district policies and the resources they garner, but it can truly impact the students and their lives when they encounter a strong teaching force. Anyone can blindly follow the dictates of a curriculum and manage a group of youngsters, but to do it well one definitely needs help. Great teachers help create great students and have been known to completely change lives in the process.

Investing in professional development for teachers is important since it is directly proportional to student learning and achievement. It is imperative that we support both new and experienced teachers and help them do their jobs better. Also, the various programs designed to ensure educator growth and success are not one-time programs but continuous, high-quality professional development strategies that help improve teaching quality and create high standards of learning for every child.

Teachers who are open to knowledge are the ones best suited to deliver knowledge. In this regard, professionals who are constantly looking at improving teaching practices and developing their teaching skills will be the foundation for a powerful and positive school community.

So how are American teachers faring in this regard? The latest findings by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in their Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) are eye-opening.

The survey revealed that American teachers are facing far more challenges in their profession than their counterparts in other developed nations. They receive less useful feedback or collaboration to help improve their work, have less helpful professional development and therefore end up working harder than most without experiencing the desired results.

But the most disturbing part of the survey was that two-thirds of the teachers don't feel that their profession is valued by society, a feeling that may well translate to their teaching and ultimately to learning and student achievement.

The survey directly shows nations where value for teachers has resulted in the investments for high-quality professional learning, for initial preparation in the case of new teachers as well as ongoing professional development for experienced educators. This has resulted in their teachers becoming more capable and in higher levels of student achievement.

Professional development for teachers empowers them to make complex decisions and solve problems easily. Professional development also helps them connect theory and practice with student outcomes that are in parity with global standards of learning.

Unless we focus on proper teacher development, we cannot hope to have our students compete in the global arena — much less assume adult responsibilities for citizenship and gainful employment. An effective program will be determined by features like:

  • Broadened knowledge of content and enabling teachers to master the new content and pedagogy
  • Vertical depth for particular disciplines and aligned with the latest standards and curriculum
  • Rooted in research and in-depth knowledge about teaching and learning processes
  • Addressing the complexity of education processes and contributing to measurable improvement in student achievements
  • Helping teachers successfully integrate this new knowledge and skill into their practice

Ongoing professional development is even more imperative since global competition and technology-driven lives are realities that cannot be denied or avoided. Unless teachers have regular opportunities to learn, they cannot hope to equip their students with the tools and knowledge they need for their future.

These programs should include methods and emerging technology tools for new-age teaching and help close the U.S. teaching gap. But more than that, these programs should equip our teachers to be aware, open, flexible and more experiential to deal with the growing diversity in their students, adapt to new curriculum and deal with the fast pace of change that defines modern life.