The past few weeks have been filled with articles and media reports concerning the education reform package presented by Governor Malloy. Much of the focus has been centered on teacher preparation, certification, tenure, and salary. It is not within reason to want to examine these areas along with the curriculum standards that are now in place. What is troubling is that there appears to be a consensus that there are a great number of teachers who are not qualified, or conscientious enough for the day-to-day learning of students. When the goal is to improve the achievement of students, other factors need to be considered before any real change can occur.
The steps towards certification in the state of Connecticut are among the most rigorous in the nation. There are numerous requirements which must be met in order to reach certain levels. This usually takes years to achieve. Evaluations and professional development is ongoing in most districts, and teachers must take additional credits in order to maintain their license. If a teacher is not sufficiently doing their job, or are not observed to be effective, there are plenty of opportunities early on in their career to not grant certification, or to be released by a district. It is up to the administrative staff, central office, and the state to make this determination, and to have the fortitude to follow through with the decision.
The other factors that come into to play are those which no school, principal, or teacher has control. Children need to understand from a young age that school is important. Attendance is critical. I have seen many students miss too many days to be successful. Children also need an adequate amount of rest. Letting young children stay up late is not beneficial to learning. They also have to be taught how to behave and be respectful. Too much class time is spent dealing with inappropriate behavior. This has nothing to do with a teacher having control. Homework needs to be completed and handed in on time. Less time should be spent on video games or other electronic devices, and more should be spent on reading.
Every student needs a parent, grandparent, guardian, or someone responsible in their life that will ensure that they are prepared and active in their learning. I have seen students in homes run by single moms, working two jobs, go on to college and be successful. I have seen students from all socio-economic levels who are neglected and don’t care about school. It takes caring adults to encourage, inspire, and motivate young people. It takes adults outside of the school to make sure that education is a priority in the life of a child.
Teachers play a significant role in the education of a youngster, but they can’t do it alone. There is no single method that allows every student to succeed. Urban schools are dealing with more issues than their suburban counterparts. They need more assistance in terms of staffing, materials, and social services. It is easy to point fingers and lay blame. Teaching is the one occupation that everyone thinks they understand or know how to do better. It takes more than a few hours on a tour, or even a whole day, to truly understand the magnitude of variables that is facing one person standing alone in a room.
I have met very few teachers that didn’t care about kids. They want to see all students succeed. They fret about the children who were struggling, and work hard to find a way to help. So change the requirements, and change the curriculum, but if you don’t concentrate on the social, emotional, and behavior of our young, nothing will be different. Education doesn’t occur only in a school building. The whole day of a child has an impact. That is the message that needs reinforcing. That is the area that will have the most effect in terms of future success.