This article from last week about good and effective teachers being the most critical piece of successful education had some interesting points. Teachers are clearly the most important resource our children have during their hours at school. Indeed, research has shown that even one solid connection in a child’s life can alter his or her path towards success and confidence and that in the absence of other sources, that person may often be a teacher.
Here’s the article in the Washington Post by Joel I. Klein, chancellor of New York City schools, Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund and Janet Murguía, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza. They are co-chairs of the Board of the Education Equality Project.
One train of thought for me after reading this article began with a quote from the piece.
“Different teachers get very different results with similar students.”
Why is this? There are lots of reasons but some, surely, must have to do with the nature of relationships between any two people and indeed, group dynamics as well. All other issues aside, we generally expect teachers to be able to achieve the same results with all students, or at least be reasonably effective with all students, when the reality is that many teachers simply don’t have the skills to do this. If we turn the approach upside down and decide that instead of expecting children to fit into cookie cuter forms where teachers affect all students equally, our system will be one where variability is the norm and the benefits of that variability are used as tools, what would happen? What happens when teachers are guides who are taught to recognize the strengths in their individual students and their classrooms as a whole and use those to the benefit all students? What happens when collective learning in a classroom is as important as each individual student’s progress because it ultimately brings each individual to learn in ways we don’t currently have a good measure for? Is this just about teacher skills and training or is it a bigger question?
This is not to say that teachers don’t need to be good at what they do. Of course they do and the article makes a few interesting points as well about the overall lower education level of teacher trainees in the U.S. as compared to some other countries. However, we also continue to use the same standards of measure of success for our children (and our teachers, for that matter!) when looking at this example – primarily test scores. How do we accurately and effectively evaluate skills and abilities our children acquire in a broader way as they move through the system?
We are talking about reforming education. We know that in many cases our system is breaking and we are faced with the real dilemma of what to do about it. Does it make sense to criticize teachers, or any other part of the system, without recognizing the complexity of the larger system as a whole? Is it logical or necessary to place blame or does it make sense to carefully consider the evidence about what truly effective education looks like around the world and make changes based on that?