FORUM RESPONSE | Those promising improvement had better deliver

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Unfortunately, I was unaware of the February 5th breakfast; I would like to have attended. I read the synopsis of the discussion and the (related) New Yorker article regarding teacher competence cited here on TCDP. I have a few observations, comments, and suggestions.

  • American public education is an institution that affects all of us in one way or another; therefore, everyone has an opinon as to its current status and the way forward.
  • Reforming our schools is complicated; ask Dave Jennings.
  • Meetings and forums are necessary, but far too often prove to be unproductive.
  • Teachers, parents, and students are jaded; those of us promising improvement had better deliver.

There were many accurate observtions and insightful comments expressed at the breakfast. I think there would have been more had teachers been able to attend. (It was a work day.)

The New Yorker article and the introduction to the synopsis of the Policy Breakfast both stated the obvious: teacher effectiveness is the most important factor contributing to student achievement. I think we can all agree, but that’s the easy part. How we go about teaching people to be effective is the hard part. There has been much talk lately about “master teachers” mentoring inexperienced ones (this came up at the meeting), but I haven’t heard much about what, exactly, that’s going to look like and how it’s different from our current student-teaching model. Will these master teachers be paid? Will they be released to work outside the classroom with the student teacher? Who will take over the master’s class in the meantime?

Peter Hutchinson points out the need for collaboration between Pre-K through 12 programs and training institutions. Yes, absolutely! Again, though, does this mean that experienced teachers–and teachers in training for that matter–will have discussions directly with the training institution faculties? Are training institutions amenable to reform at their level?

Ms. Silva and Ms. Franklin have insights that many others do not. They probably have closer ties to the trenches than the others on the panel. Much of what they had to say would have been  dismissed as whining if it had come from a current classroom teacher. They understand that teachers, no matter their stripe, must roll with initiatives and requisite meetings and training sessions, all the while teaching, planning, preparing, and grading. Many of them have reform proposals of their own, but who listens?

Dave Jennings thinks that reform should happen as close to the classroom as possible. He’s right. I believe that much positive teacher-driven change could be effected within buildings right now, at little or no cost, which brings up my final comment: The New Yorker article outlined what sounded like a very expensive process of mentoring and training, even counseling people out of teaching after investing in them. When the Bush money runs out, how are the citizens going to pay for the mentoring, the extra staff, the consultants, and the monitoring?

Like Dave said, “It’s complicated.”