– Robert Reich
It should go without saying that the primary objective of any educational system is to put students first. That’s a given. It should also go without saying that the way to put students first is to provide them with good teachers. Good teaching is an essential element to helping students get a good education. Whether students are educated in public, private, charter, or home schools, if they have good teachers, they will learn. If not, the quality of their education is a crapshoot.
Taking this one step further, I’d like to point out that students are not served well by demoralized teachers.
Teaching is far more difficult than the average person outside the classroom often understands. On a routine basis teachers are forced to endure pointless meetings, unnecessary administrative paperwork, piles of student papers to grade, overcrowded classrooms, underfunded mandates, unmotivated and unruly students, prescribed curriculum programs that don't work, and, of course, standardized testing followed by even more standardized testing.
The list goes on … and on.
How teachers find the time to teach or even prepare to teach, I don’t know. Sometimes all they can do is try to survive the day at school.
Then, when they leave school and go home, they are hit with an onslaught of news reports about failing schools and the need to “reform” education, which often means little more than giving teachers additional work that is too often designed to satisfy administrators and politicians rather than serve the needs of students.
This all-too-common process of demoralizing teachers and cutting the heart out of the teaching profession has created a crisis in our public schools. The culture must change, and I believe it can.
I invite the readers of this blog to take a look at an article published two days ago by Phi Delta Kappa International titled “Finland’s Secret Sauce: It’s Teachers.” Anyone following current developments in education knows that Finland’s educational system has become a model for the rest of the world. Part of what makes Finland's system such a success can be seen in the following paragraph from the Phi Delta Kappa International article:
For all their effort, Finnish teachers are not highly paid. But they are highly respected and treated far more like professionals than American teachers. Finnish teachers are on their feet in front of students for fewer hours every week, teaching only three to four hours per day. The rest of their work time is spent in preparation, working with colleagues, marking papers, and doing other duties assigned by their heads. Unless they have to teach a class, they are not required to be at the school.That paragraph describes a system that does not demoralize teachers. Instead, it describes a system that gives teachers time to teach and polish their craft, a system that treats teachers as professionals.
Can the American system do better at supporting its teachers and liberating them to serve their students better? I believe so.
I see signs that teachers are taking the lead in demanding change, and I make a point of tweeting information about those changes whenever I can. (www.twitter.com/nmjim)
I also harbor some hope that the U.S. Department of Education has taken a big step toward doing more to support teachers. Last month, the Education Department released its “Blueprint for RESPECT.” RESPECT is an acronym for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching. The blueprint calls for “salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law, more support for novice teachers, and more career opportunities for veterans.”
Bravo! The blueprint is a refreshing change from all the recent discussions about “accountability,” “school choice,” and “annual yearly progress” that really do nothing more than dishearten teachers by implying they are not doing their jobs.
I have read the “Blueprint for RESPECT” and find that much of it sounds like a bureaucratic wish list. But that doesn’t matter. It’s heart is in the right place. The Education Department has said teachers deserve respect and has called for substantial pay increases, as well as professional opportunities for advancement. The Education Department has also addressed the issue of improving working conditions for teachers and granting teachers more autonomy. Those are all worthwhile objectives.
At the very least, the Education Department has committed itself to promoting the “Blueprint for RESPECT” and trying to sell it publicly. Maybe we should view that as the first step toward transforming a culture that demoralizes teachers into a culture that gives teachers a little hope.
The “Blueprint for RESPECT” can be downloaded through this link.
I want to offer my sincerest thanks to Pamela Cort for introducing me to the “Blueprint for RESPECT.” Pamela, a French teacher at a local high school, has recently been recognized as the 2013 New Mexico Teacher of the Year. I met Pamela for the first time this week and found her to be an inspiration for who she is as a teacher and a person. Her commitment to what she does in the classroom and her love for students show the teaching profession at its very best. Meeting Pamela confirmed what I had heard through the grapevine that her recognition as Teacher of the Year was “well deserved and long overdue.” Thank you, Pamela, for all you are doing to promote our noble profession.