Thursday, May 16, 2013

From A Teacher: Top 10 Ways to Improve Our Schools


There was a flurry of activity a few weeks ago when DOE issued their grades for Maine’s government schools.  Strangely, the buzz seems to have subsided, and we’re not sure why.

We have a school teacher friend, with whom we were discussing this subject.  At some point in the discussion, we asked our friend what are the “Top Ten” ways our schools could be improved?

Our friend took the question seriously, and put considerable effort into a response, which we are providing for your edification.  We commend the list to you as worthy of reflection and further discussion.  And we hope those engaged locally in educating our children will take note.

1. Society needs to value education. I don't mean more money, I mean to put education first. Children are our future and we need them to be the best they can be, so our country stays strong.

2. Society needs to demand all subjects be taught with equal rigor, instead of blowing off science and social studies because they aren’t tested.

3. Society's expectations must be high for its graduates. Low expectations give way to low outcomes. You shouldn’t get a blue ribbon for showing up. It must be earned. The sooner that lesson is driven home, the better results we will get from students.

3. Society must also accept that not every kid is a sit and take notes all day learner. If we really valued education, then in high school we would have internships for students that put them in the working world where they would learn what they needed through experience and a real (to them) need to know. Book concepts are still abstract to some kids; the real world where they will need the concepts drives it home better than a classroom. Besides, they could check out different professions, both blue and white collar, to see how their interests could lead them to a meaningful career.

4. Society needs to demand life long learning. Schools should teach students to think, to know where to find information and know if it's valid and reliable. If not, where else to look. It goes back to 'Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach him to fish, he eats forever.'

5. Parental involvement - parents have the responsibility to make sure their child is doing what they must to do well in school. It may mean emailing and or calling teachers everyday. It may mean a parent has to sit down with a child doing homework instead of watching TV. Parents need to make sure there are consequences at home for not doing their best. Doing their best also includes behavior. No student has the right to interfere with the learning of another.

6. Teachers need to make the classroom a safe place to make mistakes. Teach in a variety of ways to meet the different learning styles and rates for each kid. It may mean an individual learning plan for each kid outside the main group of learners. Teachers need to communicate with parents. Teachers need to support parental rights. If Mom has said no computer, the teacher needs to come up with a different way to teach that child, not ignore the parent and let them use the computer just because it's easier.

7. If a teacher isn't doing their job, there needs to be a plan in place to help strengthen their weaknesses. After a school year, if the problems still exist, they are told to leave. Maine doesn't have tenure, but it can take up to two years to get rid of a failing teacher, which is much too long. We are supposed to be professionals.

8. Administrators need to work with parents to solve any problems that arise, be it with a teacher, a student who isn't doing as they should, or a school policy.

9. Administrators need to support teachers. We send kids to the office for misbehavior and Administration often says “don't do it again,” and erases consequences assigned by teachers. They need to listen to parents concerns about school policies, grades, bullying, etc, and do their best to make any necessary changes. Kids need to feel safe at school to do their best.

10. Administrators must make sure the standards assigned to each grade level are being taught, and with enough rigor.  They need to sit in on classes taught as often as possible. They need to observe each teacher in the building at least once a grading period. They must work with the weak teachers to set up any support plans needed as a result of evaluations.

So there you have it, and we thank our friend for the effort put into this list.

As an added bonus, here’s an interesting recent article that talks to the issue of teaching staff, and how a Union Leader in New Haven grabbed the bull by the tail and faced the situation.  You’ll probably be very surprised by what you read.

The opening passage:

The end of the school year is usually a happy time, but not for David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers. He’s getting ready to have difficult conversations with some of his members, teachers who have flunked the Connecticut school district’s yearlong evaluation process. Cicarella will tell them the union won’t defend them, even if they have tenure. It’s time for them to look for another job.

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