Last week on PBS, Charlie Rose invited as his guests four outstanding Teachers of the Year from 2008 and recent years. How motivated and MOTIVATING they all were! Hopefully, many of you were able to view the program (later re-broadcast on some local PBS stations).
Three of these teachers were quite young while one was more “seasoned". All were genuinely enthusiastic and looking forward to the coming school year. Each of them was articulate, polished and professional, very informed, and innovative in the way they think and practice the art- yes, the ART!-of teaching. Several of these teachers were from previously under-performing schools in financially challenged communities. However, that did not prevent them from achieving excellence in their profession, and more importantly, helping their students to achieve excellence in their classrooms.
Attitude is everything! Such is the case with these four outstanding teachers. Their attitudes were very positive. Each teacher had a real vision for education in our country. Currently, the American educational system needs much in the way of improvement. The 2008 Teacher of the Year, Michael Geisen, made mention of the fact that China currently has more high-achieving, “honor" students than the U. S. has (total) students. This should be a major wake-up call to all of us if we are going to enable our students to be fully prepared for this global economy that has already grown exponentially in recent years.
To do this, other skills must be measured in addition to that of reading and math proficiency. How can we accurately evaluate the all-important critical and creative thinking skills, artistic abilities, the sciences such as biology, and many others? What's more, it is critical to remember that tests do not tell us the whole picture. Other skills and talents are definitely important and need to be measured appropriately as well. To do so, will involve innovative thinking AND teaching. Learning as much as possible about our students’ talents/interests and their learning styles early in each academic would be a good beginning. Tailoring or teaching then to those interests, talents, needs, and individual styles of learning will enable our students to achieve the goals set both by each teacher as well as those set by each community and eventually those of our country. In the current world of education, this is called differentiated instruction. The practice of this will also address the needs of those challenged with learning disabilities and differences. In fact, this approach would create a scenario where ALL “boats" would rise!
Networking opportunities for educators within their own school communities were also mentioned by these Teachers of the Year. In-house professional development sessions offering practical techniques and strategies for teachers are just what educators need and desire. Often, however, the school schedules prohibit or prevent these kinds of collaborative efforts. Often it is not about funding or finances, but it is about “creating time" for teachers to flourish and grow together.
Incentives for teaching well were also mentioned during the program. Assistance and support to under-performing teachers were also recommended. Finally, help and services for repeatedly underachieving teachers to actually transition out of the teaching profession were also suggested.
As mentioned by these fine teachers, the current state of education in the U. S. is a civil rights issue and a social justice issue. Equity for all students is possible. However, we will ALL need to “get onboard" to make it happen. Thank you, Charlie Rose, for helping to begin this all-important dialog!