Monday, September 27, 2010

Obama Advocates Longer School Year, Higher Teacher Pay

As a retired teacher with more than thirty years of experience, I would say that once more the non-educator is trying to create a fix for the educational system. While I applaud the intent of the effort, I question the approach.

In order for a child to be a successful student, he/she must be able to read well. Without this ability, any intervention is doomed from the start. The ability to read should start in the home with family members reading to and with their children. This can be supplemented at the library through reading programs there, or a variety of other places. Once a child starts school, the classroom teacher needs effective support from a building-based reading specialist. Even with those resources, some children will still experience difficulties and need the help of a certified clinical reading specialist. Then the child must be given opportunities at both school and home where he/she is encouraged to read.

A second factor is a family involvement in the educational process. Children should be encouraged to attend school and do well there. In order for this to happen, the child needs an environment in which education is valued, a study time and place is provided, and adequate food and clothing is available. Parents must be willing to communicate with teachers to create a team effort. Yes, it DOES take a village to educate a child. It also takes a hell of a lot of effort.

Thirdly, the school must provide an environment in which a student can be successful. Not only must there be motivated, well-trained teachers, administrators, and support staff, but the environment should be conducive to student success. Individual student differences should be recognized and valued. Bullying should never be permitted. Instruction and related materials should be meaningful and appropriate.

A longer school year is not the quick fix. It would be more relevant to make better use of the time that already exists. Teachers are not in their profession to become wealthy and teacher pay has improved greatly since the 1960's. Rather than higher pay, many teachers would prefer more classroom resources and the time to focus on significant instruction without meaningless meetings and non-instructional tasks such as hall patrol.

If I as a former educator was asked how to improve our present educational system, these are basic suggestions that I would give.