"What makes a good teacher?" That seems to be the question of the decade...and not just this decade. Pick any decade for the last 70 years, and you'll find a spirited debate on public school reform. I love to engage in this important discussion because it is extremely important to my profession.
In addition to the thoughts found in the best teaching practices section, these "big picture" ideas and articles are fundamental to the vision of this website and to who I am as a teacher.
Is there a little controversy here? Oh yeah...but the education system needs it and I welcome it. Why? Well, let's turn the question around for a moment.
Short answer: Our current system. I have several issues with public education in America:
Colleges that don't prepare teachers for the reality of the classroom, or weed out those who don't belong.
Becoming an elementary teacher involves a lot of wasted time. In general, our teaching colleges don't seem to be truly focused on what makes a good teacher. Actual hands-on experience in the nitty-gritty of a full day in elementary school is lacking in teaching degree curriculum (several observations and a single session of student teaching don't cut it).
This is really in line with the practice of reflective teaching at a very personal level. More exposure would let teaching candidates know this is not the field for them well before they committed four years of their lives and thousands of dollars in student loans to it.
Mentoring and development programs that don't give a teacher the best chance at success during their first years on the job.
On-the-job-training is common in all industries, but consider that when a teacher struggles, the students suffer...for an entire school year.
Teacher assessment and accountability measures that are essentially non-existant.
Standards based grading assessments that do exist in some states are unfair, overly broad or punitive in design and don't seem truly focused on what makes a good teacher.
And my biggest issues with public education:
A system that does not consistently consider the welfare and education of children as its number one concern...
...at all times and in all circumstances, no matter what other issues are impacted...including union contracts, seniority and anything else that places the interest of adults ahead of kids. Other industries would say that education lacks a "customer focus."
Just because there is a need for public school reform, this is certainly not to say that there is currently a complete failure of public education. There is much that is going right and many children who exit the system ready for life.
I maintain, however that this is the result of individual teacher or individual building efforts...not the result of an education system that drives excellence throughout the entire organization.
Conventional wisdom states that taking on the inner workings of the teaching system is professionally risky and filled with landmines for an educator. That may have been true in the past, but no longer.
Public school reform has become a national conversation, involving everyone who has a stake in the outcome. In addition to education professionals (administrators and teachers:
The loudest voices no longer belong to teachers. The loudest voices belong to those who are advocating for our customers (our students).
Standards-based grading is not going away. Teachers need to step firmly forward into this new reality and be heard. And not be heard as the guardians of the old way of doing things. No, to be heard as the advocates for high standards and the champions of what should be the best education system in the world.
Lead the way, not stand in the way.
I like to talk about "big issues" and I hope you find something challenging here to think about. I do want to make these two final points clear:
1. These articles are based on my opinions and no one else's
2. My opinion is subject to change at any time!
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Becoming an Elementary Teacher
the Hard Way
Education degrees don't prepare teachers for classroom reality
Standards-Based Grading & Teacher Accountability
Our "employers" (parents and politicians) demand it; teachers need to make it work.
Teacher Accountability: Fixing No Child Left Behind
A fair approach for a student-centered classroom
Elementary School Websites: Parent Resources
Teacher communication, child development, healthy eating and more