A Better way to treat our teachers

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In a recent article in Forbes, the headline of which is ‘How America is Breaking Public Education,’ Ethan Siegel finds much that is wrong with the treatment what has been meted out to teachers. They, for years, have been subjected to treatment which has been devastating and demoralizing. They have been fired, forced to give time consuming tests, evaluated by student performance on tests, thus shifting their focus from all that is vital to what is much less so. They have been blamed for the performance of poor students. Recently their strikes have expressed their objections to their decades of poor treatment.

A number of students who enter college do not graduate, even though they have been passing the high school standardized tests. Teachers understand that passing a test, particularly presently, is not an adequate measure of how much the student understands. College work is hard work and if students are not prepared for it they will not complete the journey.

Most or all degreed people know much about test preparation. We become familiar with the test, through practice; in the process we find the pattern which runs through the tests and exploit it. Important as tests are, passing them do not guarantee a grasp and understanding of the subject. That is acquired by hard work and it is what will carry the individual through college. By doing that the student acquires a strong work habits of study, perseverance and time management.

Since testing has been forced on the teacher, many students may feel that it is okay to depend on teacher prep and that a good or passing grade says they are ready for college. If they do not have study skills and time management habits they are in for a rude awakening. To put it differently passing tests is far from enough preparation for college. An unprepared student will fold in college when challenges occur, and they will.

To say it is unfair to blame teachers for the failing students, would be only touching the surface of my objections. The correlation between student performance and parent finances and education is so outstanding that it cannot be disregarded. Parental support, finance, and education do affect student performance. The student who has to make it without the support of his parents faces a grinding uphill battle. It is possible of course that the schools can make a difference in the lives of poor students but there would have to be meaningful changes in schools and how teachers are treated.

Class size, time in front of class, and number of classes matter very much. . Tests and quizzes have to be graded and notes taken on the performance on each student. There has to be a follow up with students particularly those who are experiencing difficulties. Essay questions in mathematics allow the teacher to analyze the student’s thinking and thought processes and they take time. For teachers like myself the process is much more important than the answer the student gives. Ensuring that the student passed in a neat and well repared assignment with his reasoning properly laid out is very important. Completed tests need to be returned and the teacher needs to go it over with the class and meet with the students who are having difficulties. The student knows you care when you do this.

These have to be done regularly. When then, teachers do not have enough time to do this type of work much will go wrong and blaming them is futility itself. This type of work is far different from test prep but it is what helps the student to acquire the necessary approach to mathematics, or for that matter any other subject. It gives the student much work, but it tries to ensure on a daily basis that that each student has a grasp of his work. It works both students and teachers. Moving on to critical thinking questions calls for even more time. One of the critical areas where policy makers fail is in considering the time needs of teachers and as long as they do not attend to it the performance of students cannot be improved.

This consideration also extends to lesson planning. Getting the sustained attention of students means planning for variation in presentation. It becomes necessary to find ways of keeping the interests of students as high as possible. Capturing the students’ attention may mean having classes outside sometimes, visiting a worksite, using real things instead of a diagram, or finding ways to play while teaching the subject. This is another element which uses the teachers’ time.

In mathematics the sequencing of topics and the time spent on a topic is crucial and both of these things should be decided by teachers. Treating teachers badly can in no way elevate the performance of students. Giving them more autonomy, less instructional time, and smaller classes is perhaps the best way to go. Teachers need to feel that the schools they work at is not just a work place but that they have ownership in what goes on there.

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