The Individual Teacher versus the Educational System: What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?
I highly recommend the article below, for the perspective above all. The issue of “If we fix teachers, do we fix the American educational system” is discussed below and in a recent Freakonomics podcast (see link here). The Freakonomics team comes to the same conclusion as below — no, the home life is a far bigger factor than any particular teacher.
But I’m more struck by the focus on the education system more than the individual teacher in the below essay. If your focus is on the education system, then the goal shouldn’t be to identify and get rid of the “bad” teachers. In the end, that’s just one teacher in a whole system. You’re better off improving the system, by making the teachers as good as possible (e.g., with high-quality professional development, and lots of it). Develop your teachers, and the system improves itself.
The comments about Teach for America are relevant to the TEALS program, too. If we value teaching as a profession and want highly-skilled, prepared, and experienced teachers, then you don’t take newbies and make them teachers. Make them assistants, or make them para-professionals. Take a legitimate peripheral participation approach and let them help on the edges. But keep the teacher front-and-center, valuing her or him for the experience and development that she or he brings to the classroom — don’t try to replace the teacher with someone who doesn’t have that experience and preparation.
When I told Barbara Ericson about these comments, she countered that I’m assuming that (with respect to computer science) schools have these well-prepared and experienced teachers. She says that she’s seen whole districts without a single teacher with preparation as a CS teacher — but they’re teaching CS. She argues that in most schools, a TEALS professional could not be just an assistant or para-professional, because the teacher can’t adequately support the course on his or her own.
In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.
For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.