A Manifesto, If You Will

A lot has been written about teachers lately along with unions, collective bargaining, and the direction American education should take. As someone who has been a teacher for ten years, here are some of my thoughts.

The biggest topic or conclusion politicians and educational policy people come to is a great teacher makes all the difference. This is a noble thought. Here’s the problem. How do you determine this? What is a great teacher? Does it have to be someone who stays through the evening hours? Someone who has no life outside of teaching? An experienced teacher? A new teacher? Is there a learning curve at all anymore?

This is what I think. In any field, you have people who are good at their jobs, bad at their jobs, and most of the time, pretty average at their jobs. I don’t think teaching is any different. If you think back on your school career, I’m guessing you can remember some great teachers and some bad teachers and then a whole lot of okay teachers. And I’m speculating that some of your great teachers, maybe your friends didn’t think were so great. It often depends on the student and the learning style.

But most teachers are going to be your okay, average teacher. If everyone is great, then there is no great. I am an okay, average teacher. I do some things really well and some things not so well. I have good days and bad days, lessons that work, lessons that flop, students I connect with, and students who I just don’t reach.

And that has to be okay. Because…teachers are human beings.

So unless we want to switch to computer-aided instruction or robots teaching our children, we are going to need to accept the fact that most of the teachers children will come in contact with will be average, okay teachers. They will make mistakes. They will have bad days. New teachers will not walk into the classroom the first day and achieve perfection. They need time to get used to their jobs like everyone else in a new job.

So what needs to change?

First, if we need more teachers to be great, how do we make them great? I think most teachers would roll their eyes when asked to discuss the evaluation system at their school. Most administrators are in charge of evaluations and frankly, are too busy with administrative duties to properly evaluate all the teachers in their charge. I think experienced, great teachers should be paid to mentor and evaluate new teachers and make employment recommendations. This Gladwell article is an interesting take on the subject.

Also, nothing irritates me more than hearing a teacher loudly complain about how late she stays at school. Frankly, I think, if a teacher is at school until dinnertime everynight she is either: A. a teacher in her first couple of years or B. very inefficient. Some teachers prefer to come in early, some prefer to stay late, others try to utilize prep periods and lunch periods well. It’s a matter of preference and time spent in the building does not make a great teacher.

I hate to say it but we probably need to look at the yearly schedule, the time of day, and the vacations a little more carefully. But…if you’re going to take away summers, you’re going to have to increase the pay. And I don’t know if I would stay in this profession without the summers off. I could do a longer day, especially if the kids got more of the arts and physical exercise and hands-on-learning out of it. But there is something about having a summer to reflect on teaching and starting anew in September. Plus there is no air conditioning in probably 99% of school buildings in New England. And summers are getting hot!

I have more ideas about more standardized curriculum and school culture, but maybe for another time.

What are some other thoughts you have as parents and teachers?