No class of people ultimately has a greater influence on society than those who devote their careers to educating its young. Teachers are the indispensable link between past and future, the conduits through whom the accumulated wisdom of the ages flows to the rising generation. Yet, society has never rewarded teachers with anything like the largess it bestows upon, say, professional athletes or business executives. No wonder so many dedicated educators eventually leave the profession after spending many frustrating years on the job, unappreciated and unrewarded.
That is why the James C. Penney Foundation has decided to encourage a new approach to keeping Baltimore city's best teachers where they belong -- in the classroom. Next year, the foundation will award a one-time, $10,000 no-strings-attached grant to the teacher at Baltimore's Lake Clifton-Eastern High School who develops an activity that most enhances the learning process for students in his or her classroom. The foundation's officers hope this token of recognition will stimulate other organizations to create similar awards elsewhere.
The Penney prize is a result of the kind of public-private partnership that has proven invaluable in stimulating educational reform across the country. If it leads to a citywide series of awards it could make Baltimore's public schools an irresistible magnet for gifted young teachers who want to be the best.