Monday, November 2, 2009

Without good teachers, it doesn’t matter

Last week I was able to spend a lot of time at the most important part of my job—supporting teachers as they practice their craft. Monday I spent a long session with a first year teacher, reflecting on a lesson she had taught and the lessons she was learning. I was impressed about how quickly she had incorporated some of the ideas colleagues and I had shared with her into her classroom work. And doubly impressed with the insights she had developed into several students.

Later that day I spent an hour with a senior faculty member who is working on developing some extensive performance assessments for our students. Her insights into how students approach texts, and how they write from experience, were amazing. How lucky our kids are to have someone who takes them so seriously.

Wednesday included an hour with the two faculty members who run our Teacher Center. Based on their work in classrooms and conversations with staff we were developing a professional development sequence around reading and writing across the curriculum. Additionally we spent time on how we might fine tune our Advisory program in order to better meet the needs of our students.

The support and development of professional educators is the most important thing we can invest in if we want to have a public education system that challenges and engages all of our children. Ted Sizer, founder of both The Forum and the Coalition of Essential Schools put it best in his book Horace’s Compromise:

While our system of schools contains many consequential characteristics—for example, the subjects of the curriculum, the forms of governance, the uses of technologies and teaching aids, the organization of programs for special groups—none is more important that who the teachers are and how they work. Without good teachers, sensibly deployed, schooling is barely worth the effort. (p. 4)

Ted’s book came out 25 years ago—if only we had headed his words then.

We again have the chance to heed Ted’s challenge with the reauthorization of ESEA this coming year. Hopefully this time our representatives in Congress will get it right and pay attention to the preparation, placement, and support of teachers. The Forum for Education and Democracy’s recently released briefing paper, Effective Teachers: High Achievers presents eight strategies that could be undertaken immediately if the nation wants to take up the challenge to put a well-prepared and supported teacher in every classroom.

Based on my 18 years at my desk in Federal Hocking Middle and High School I know that the most important question every parent and student asks each school year is ‘Who will my teacher be?’ It is my job to make sure that parents and learners will be satisfied no matter what teacher at our school is named in response to that question. Such should be the goal nationwide.

One more note. When I shared the Forum’s plan for teachers with a group of students at the nearby university during a guest lecture, one of the students challenged whether or not America could afford the plan we are putting forward. Well, do the math. The Forum’s proposal calls for an annual investment of $3.4 billion dollars in teachers. The federal government last year put over $12 billion dollars into saving General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), an outfit that finances car purchases. Are our kids worth ¼ of what we put into our cars?

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