30 Jan The State of the Union – Teachers Matter
The most powerful words from the State of the Union? “Teachers Matter” and “teach with creativity and passion.” The creativity and passion in teaching has been leached out over the years by increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing. Everything seems to hinge on a single assessment. Though we talk in my district about viewing the whole child and analyzing more than one source of data, we find that people are attached to certain results almost to the exclusion of common sense.
In the State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about teaching with “creativity and passion.” Teachers need to once again feel confident in their approach to subject matter. The teachers I know are passionate about teaching. They love to see the light bulb go on when students “get it”. They are driven by the need to teach students. They crave that interaction. Currently, teachers swim through red tape that serves as an educational obstacle.
As teachers, we agree that we want data about student abilities. We need to understand how much a child knows so that we can take him beyond that knowledge into enriching possibilities. When children are struggling, assessments can help in determining an action plan to meet their needs. And high-achieving students must be challenged to continue to grow.
Also, teachers welcome an opportunity to be evaluated as a professional when those assessments result in feedback that can help them grow. We as teachers hope for evaluation systems that not only provide feedback but are connected to professional development to help us improve. Even our best teachers still seek knowledge and training for improvement. That should be a goal for every teacher in the profession.
The President called for an end to teacher bashing. Too often society is driven by sensational news that clings to a controversial topic in order to sell headlines. We need to look for the positive events in education. We need to celebrate the triumphs. We need to recognize teachers as a major element in a child’s life and respect them as such.
What does this mean for teachers?
Teachers must live up to this respect. Educators must put concerted effort into planning for student instruction. Professionals need to act and dress the part as well.
Teachers need to feel confident again to teach standards creatively. Common Core State Standards provide a framework for WHAT needs to be taught, but teachers are the driving force for HOW those standards are taught. This is where, though the same standards are taught, educational strategies for students may differ.
Teachers need to voice their thoughts. Educators must participate in discussions about the ways that student growth and achievement are measured. Teacher voices are also needed to determine fair and consistent ways to measure teacher performance. Teachers can look for ways to get involved in important conversations about education. Look for opportunities within your district and your state. Teachers can look to non-profits to amplify their voices. Hope Street Group provides a platform for discussions like this.
What does this mean for Policymakers?
Policymakers need to listen to the “in-the-trenches” voices of teachers. Policymakers (and the public) cannot just assume that teachers are trying to protect their jobs in these discussions of student achievement and teacher evaluation. Policymakers must recognize that educators represent a valuable steering element for these discussions. These teachers serve as necessary resource.
Policymakers can look to other states that are working with teachers to gather their voices in meaningful ways. Delaware, for instance, is working toward involving the work of state teachers when developing the teacher evaluation system that will be put into place. I participated in a workgroup that created assessments to measure student growth. During these work sessions, I had access to the people working for the department who are making decisions. I have voiced my concerns and the concerns of my colleagues. In addition, I have suggested possible solutions. I have found the ears of my policymakers to be open.
President Obama’s remarks about Teachers and Education lead us down the path of transforming our educational systems and re-thinking some strongly held beliefs about the methods we use to educate students. A step further contributes to the conversations about ensuring that our children receive an education from the best teachers available. While our paradigm is shifting, we must remember to share our voices together in this important conversation.