October Update

Bought a standard poodle puppy.  Bringing him home October 5, so October will be full of housebreaking, and FUN.



Entries in teachers (2)


How Can We Get High-Quality Education in American Schools? Part 2

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.

         The second essay, by R. Barker Bausell, criticizes current teacher evaluation methods, and suggests a new method: 

         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.


How Can We Get High-Quality Education in American Schools? Part 1

This week I want to blog about a spiritual problem in American education.  In the April 30 Op-Ed section, The New York Times published two essays about teacher quality.

         The first, "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries," by Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, points out an important comparison between American teachers and American troops:  “When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers…we blame the planners….When results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers.”  The authors go on to say that this is the exact opposite from what we do about America’s teachers: “They’re mowed down by…long hours, low pay…lack of support and respect.”  And when our students compare poorly with those in other developed countries, we blame our teachers.

         This reminds me of the difference between the way we treat today’s troops in the field and returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the way we treated the troops who fought in Vietnam.  (How great it would be if people had magnets on the backs of their cars that said, "Support our Teachers!"

         Under these circumstances, the only people likely to enter teaching and stay are saints, or people who can meet the educational requirements but can’t compete in other professions.

         Developed countries elsewhere persuade the highest-achieving college students to become teachers by offering financial incentives, support, and esteem.  In America, these are the kinds of rewards expected in other professions: medicine, research and development, law, and business.  But American teachers get neither high pay, nor support, nor esteem.  It’s no wonder teaching generally doesn’t attract the highest quality people.

         Personally, I have not had it too bad as a teacher, but I have had regrets about the low pay and lack of respect.  However, early in my career, when I was still teaching elementary school, I spent two years as a teacher in Lincoln, a wealthy suburb of Boston.  The parents there were highly child-centered and immensely supportive of educators.  It was as near a dream job as I ever had.  Staff took on the secretarial work, the administration praised and supported teacher innovation, creativity, and progress.  The pay was excellent.  Everyone benefited, from the least imaginative teacher to the least able student, from the most skilled teacher to the most gifted student.