The May 6, 1966, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: ORMOND GIGLI
By Lily Rothman
May 1, 2016

The idea that the U.S. may be facing a potential teacher shortage, or that teachers are consistently undervalued, probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who follows today’s education news. And, as Teacher Appreciation Week begins on Monday, it’s worth remembering that the problem isn’t exactly new.

In the 1960s, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare secretary John Gardner bemoaned the “flight from teaching” that was going on within academia. That comment inspired TIME to take a look at those people who were defying the trend, for a cover story in the May 6, 1966, issue—50 years ago this week.

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The story, which focused on great college professors, profiled 10 men who were exemplars of the profession, and found that great teaching was hard to do but easy to define:

The story, however, doesn’t fully apply to today’s problems. The teaching atmosphere the story addressed was in college only, where pay and prestige weren’t so much of a problem, and all of the teachers in question—in a fact that probably accurately reflected the Ivory Tower of the day—were white men. Another story later that year addressed the teacher shortage in public schools, where pay was low (“the basic problem is that teaching salaries in most public schools are not competitive with jobs in industry and government requiring lesser skills,” the story explained) and prestige was too. (The illustration accompanying that story, perhaps unsurprisingly, was of a woman. Today, the vast majority of schoolteachers are women.)

But while the 1966 cover story didn’t fully capture every side of the decades-long problem getting great teachers into America’s classrooms, the takeaway still holds up: Great teachers, wherever they’re found, deserve to be acknowledged.

And sure enough, many TIME readers wrote in to make sure their favorite teachers got the recognition they deserved. For example:

“I saw your list of teachers, but I didn’t see my teacher’s name,” wrote Bobby McIntosh. “She is the best teacher I have ever had. Her name is Miss McAllister, Grade 3, Crystal Spring, Roanoke, Va.”

Read the full story from 1966, here in the TIME Vault: To Profess With a Passion

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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