Did you catch Bill Gates on Marketplace last night? He was interviewed by Kai Ryssdal (on a completely unrelated note, how YUMMY is he??) about teachers and education. Mr. Gates suggested two ways to improve our international standing in educational achievement:
- more effective teachers
- more technology to help students
Technology is always touted as the great panacea for fixing education – more technology will make everything OK! The problem with this is equity and access. I am lucky enough to teach in one of the wealthiest school districts in the country. My school is filled to the brim with technology: we have Smart Boards, our civics and government texts are online, we have mobile laptop carts and on and on. Yet we still have students who don’t have the financial resources to buy a computer, an e-reader, what have you. It’s not that educators are reluctant to embrace technology (as implied by Mr. Gates in his interview), but he fact that not all of our students can get the technology. Seems to me that Mr. Gates should put his money where his mouth is – I’m sure he has more than enough money to buy a netbook or something for every school child in America. What say?
The second issue Mr. Gates and Kai (why yes, we are on a first name basis…) talked about was quality teachers. Mr. Gates said that the highest priority is helping teachers be more effective. Amen to that! There’s all kinds of research that shows that possibly the single most important element in the education of a child is the teacher. Student achievement in classrooms with effective teachers is much higher than student achievement in classrooms with ineffective teachers (53% improvement over a year versus 14%.)* Pile that up over a few years, and the student unlucky enough to have a string of ineffective teachers is left in the dust.
So the aim is to get more effective teachers into the classroom, and to help those teachers who are ineffective learn how to become effective, or (at worst), get them to consider an alternative career.
OK, great, I hear you cry, but how??
I don’t have the answer. I don’t even really have an answer. I have several.
In no particular order:
Value what we do. My least favorite quote in the world is “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” It gives the impression that anyone can teach. If so, how come people aren’t flocking to the schools to do it then? If it’s so easy (not to mention the fact that we’re all done by 3 and have summers off…don’t even get me started on that one), why do we always have a dearth of qualified, effective teachers? Because it isn’t that easy, that’s why. Teaching is a profession, a skill and a craft. It is hard work. It is incredibly rewarding, and not everyone can do it. So please, let’s remove the quote from our lexicon, shall we?
Ask us. Ask a teacher (or two, or 40, or 1,000) how to improve education in their school, district or state. Give us the time and the resources to figure out what to do, how to do it, and then let us do it. We know what good teaching is. We know what bad teaching is. And given the right time within our work day (and not on top of what we already do, please), we can figure out how to help teachers who need the help.
Don’t treat education as if it were a business. You can’t deal with human beings – children – and expect that you can get them all to reach a particular benchmark each year, every year. You can’t have benchmark goals for education the way you can for sales. You can, however, mark progress. You can take a child from where they are in September to a higher level of achievement by June. Measure that. A child who enters 10th grade reading at a 3rd grade reading level and ends the year reading at a 7th grade level is not a failure. That child was not failed by her school. That child increased her reading ability by four grade levels. Celebrate that and identify that as success.
Trust us. Give us the time and resources we need. Know that we love teaching, we love our students, and we want them to succeed as much as you do.
And maybe we’ll see fewer of these kinds of posts and more news items about how successful our schools really are.
*Marzano, R. J. (2003). What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria: ASCD.