When parents are asked about the general state of public schools, they tend to respond negatively. They express concerns about gangs, violence, bullying, “dummied down” curriculum, and inexperienced teachers. Yet when asked to comment about their local schools, parents are much more enthusiastic.
Why? Personal contact with a child’s teacher is one of the best tools to measure potential effectiveness of the learning environment. The vast majority of teachers love being in the classroom and working with students. They spend hours preparing lessons that will engage students while sticking to mandated standards and benchmarks. Many extend their work day by tutoring struggling students after school or by meeting with concerned parents, all without receiving extra pay or recognition.
As older teachers retire, they take with them years of experience which often younger teachers aren’t interested in learning. Perhaps the lessons are now antiquated or don’t incorporate the latest trends, but there is still something that should be there.
The vast majority of new hires are younger, energetic teachers straight out of college. They come with unbounded enthusiasm, yearning to impart knowledge that there students will soak up.
One plus of being new is that often they are not burdened with the status quo. Innovations in methodology, technology, and curriculum hopefully invite all learners to the table if delivered correctly. Credential programs expose new teachers to the tried and true, but also to cutting edge research.
Often older teachers rely on lectures and silent reading, while newer teachers experiment with multi-modal formats that allow all types of learners access to subject matter. Using video, slides, computer-based presentations, modern overhead tools students who struggle with printed text can now compete academically with their peers.
When hiring, districts search for the most highly qualified candidates that will also fit in the school’s atmosphere in order to create small learning groups to meet academic demands in a consistent basis regardless of teacher.
Hiring is a competitive market in which wealthier districts lure the best and the brightest with signing bonuses, housing opportunities, and credit for advanced degrees. Candidates shop around, searching for the sweetest the hiring package.
During the interview process, there is an opportunity for interviewees to ask questions. In the past questions revolved around calendar, courses to be taught, and salary. Today’s candidates want to know about the population’s socioeconomic status, ethnic breakdown, opportunities for advancement, access to technology, and availability of consultants/collaborators. What a pleasant change!
Students come to school, for the most part, knowing how to do things with a computer that far exceed older teachers’ abilities. They see technology as an extension of their innate abilities. Schools that have up-to-date computer labs provide opportunities for students to demonstrate learning beyond traditional pencil and paper tasks. Therefor the Internet is used for research as well as for submitting assignments on school-based boards, searching for homework help, sending email to teachers and to other students. While not all students have a computer at home, savvy students find access at libraries, recreation centers and after-school computer labs on campus.
Almost all textbooks now come with audio components. Students can check out a CD and listen to the required reading. What a marvelous innovation! Having such access is a boon to all struggling readers. Imagine “listening” at your pace, being able to move backward and forward, and hearing text presented clearly, in an articulate voice, at a fluent pace!
Curriculum is developed using fairly rigid standards and benchmarks. Teachers are forced to comply when presenting instruction. Gone are the freewheeling days of endless video-watching as well as project-based thematic units that do not offer the rigor required. Knowing that material will be tested and that the success of students on such tests will be the measuring stick for a given teacher, those who value continued employment must teach to the standards. That’s the bottom line.
Add to the mix the availability of cell phones that can be used as learning tools but also to take sneak pictures, students often use them to capture and publish errant behaviors by both teachers and students. Teachers are very much aware that everything they say or do can become public within a relatively short period of time. Students not only record fights but also catch teachers swearing, bullying, and making ethnic, racial, or sexist comments. Because of technology, what happens in the classroom has to be appropriate.
What is the State of Education today? Teachers are stressed and underpaid, programs are underfunded, and some students are disengaged. On the other hand, requirements force teachers to stick to the curriculum for a particular grade or course, leveling the educational opportunities for all students, regardless of income-level. Technology, where available, opens the doors for learning as well as presentation variability. Older teachers are leaving, but they are being replaced with teachers who are not afraid to experiment with innovative ideas.
All in all, things are looking up. The sun is shining through the clouds.