In my last post I cited one of two essays from the April 30 Op-Ed section of The New York Times. These essays were about improving American education.
The first essay suggested supporting our teachers instead of attacking them, in order to improve the quality of American education.
Using standardized test scores to measure what teachers add to their students’ knowledge is notoriously inaccurate, Bausell writes. The same teacher may show different results from one year to the next, and even from one class to the next in the same school year.
A measure that makes more sense is the amount of time a teacher actually spends teaching the curriculum. This can be measured via video samples throughout a teacher’s day. Using this method, studies have found that “some teachers were able to deliver as much as 14 more weeks a year of relevant instruction than their less efficient peers.”
This has certainly been true in my own life as a teacher. When I started teaching high school science, I taught five sections of chemistry or honors chemistry every year. With the energy of a brand new teacher, I prepared detailed outlines of curriculum content and examples to use in teaching it. My students did much better, day after day, on that curriculum-rich diet, than some chemistry classes I had years later.
What had changed? In the intervening years, I taught Biology & AP Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Honors Physics, and Plant science. Then I concentrated on teaching Advanced Placement Biology and Honors Physics only. By the time I was assigned to teach Chemistry again, I had tossed out my detailed notebooks (Alas! What was I thinking?); the textbook had changed, and I was so busy, I taught Chemistry “off the top of my head.” The result was that I covered less of the curriculum, less effectively, and my students were the poorer for it. When I finally had time to generate new Chem outlines for myself, my teaching became vastly more effective.
I believe there is an important spiritual aspect of time-spent-teaching: A teacher who spends most of his/her time teaching the curriculum is communicating faith in the ability of students to learn and belief in the importance of learning. Teachers who kid around and waste time communicate the opposite. I know I was better at teaching from my detailed outlines because I had made those outlines in the first place with the goal of teaching effectively.