HOW TO MAKE GREAT TEACHERS
Parents Across America-Seattle knows that all children deserve an excellent teacher. We also know that excellent teachers don’t get delivered in a box. Great teaching happens when educators are supported and mentored; respected and treated as professionals; when they have creative autonomy in their classrooms; when they aren’t required to teach narrow, dumbed-down curricula or to constantly prep kids for standardized tests; when they are not being hounded, and insulted, and punished.
There is a popular myth in America of the Hero Teacher who performs miracles against all odds – turning a poor, overcrowded, hardened, inner-city classroom into a team of champions in just nine months. This uplifting fantasy is sold by Hollywood and hedge fund managers and others who’s lives don’t require much contact with reality. On planet earth, teachers, like all professionals, need good working conditions to do their jobs well. That’s why PAA-Seattle works with teachers to find out what they need to do the job they love – to teach, support, and connect deeply with every child in their classroom.
But current popular reform efforts focus on blaming teachers for the ills of our public school system. They insist that the most important thing we can do for our kids is “fire all the bad teachers.” They believe we should replace experienced teachers with poorly trained interns such as Teach For America students. They say we need to test and test and test our children and use their test scores to punish and reward their teachers. Contrary to evidence and to common sense, not to mention the choices they make for their own children, they claim that class size doesn’t matter and even advocate for class sizes of 40 students or more – in public schools.
These “reforms” not only don’t work, they do harm. They play on parents’ fears about their children’s future success in our increasingly winner-take-all society. They exploit every parent’s experience with that teacher they didn’t like. They drive out the most talented teachers and scare away the most talented potential teachers. They ignore the problem that, in America, 24% of children live in poverty. They create a war between parents and teachers, two groups who, in a sane world, would be allies working together to give every child a wonderful public education.
PAA-Seattle recognizes that some people will never be great teachers under any circumstances. We know that some teachers need to be shown the door so they can find other professions. We certainly don’t believe in “protecting the adults at the expense of the kids.” We want terrific teachers in every classroom. But we also believe in doing what works and opposing what doesn’t work. Supporting teachers works. Blaming and punishing them does not.