Teaching is a noble profession. For generations, including the bygone era of the one-room schoolhouse, teachers have shaped the future. Teachers are the first to teach math to doctors, reading to lawyers, history to archeologists, science to pharmacists, and computer skills to businessmen. With character and concern, teachers have a profound impact on the lives of the students they serve.
But teaching is not only about conveying content to students. Teaching is also about harnessing the power of effective instruction, setting high expectations, and building relationships. Many teachers entered the field because they love the art of teaching. The best teachers have an innate gift and a learned understanding for facilitating instruction and turning complex knowledge into comprehensible lessons. Likewise, teachers comprehend the value of viewing young minds as more than blank slates. Teachers understand that relationship building, mentorship, and having genuine care for students can have a positive, lifelong effect, often reaching beyond generations.
Over three million men and women have chosen to currently work as teachers in the United States. These educators strive to have a positive influence on our next generation. Day after day teachers prepare lessons, instruct students, and assess comprehension within the context of relationship building. Teaching is an honorable profession.
However, teachers have recently been confronted with increasing pressures, largely in the name of accountability for students and teachers. Many of these measures and other external influences have created a perception of diminished respect for our teachers. Teachers and their discipline of Education are being challenged on some of the most basic and foundational understandings about effective teaching, learning, and assessment. Opposing perspectives on such basic Educational tenets are often being presented and implemented by individuals who have not formally studied Education or experienced the realities of educating young minds. Politicians, business leaders, and those with financial means are confronting the field of Education and teachers like never before. Philanthropic business leaders have often been great friends to teachers, and have even larger potential for giving in the future. But, while the rationale for much of the reform movement relates to U.S. students’ ability to be competitive in the global marketplace, many of the reform approaches are diminishing the morale and motivation of the most successful teachers who have chosen to make Education their life’s work.
In the section that follows, the Rosebrough Center for Educational Practice provides ten foundational understandings about teachers and Education. Most professional educators would likely view these ten principles as never in need of reform. However, these foundational tenets are currently under assault. Although some teachers may openly speak in defense of such understandings, many are remaining silent, often fearing to speak against those with political power and financial resources.
An old adage indicates that if you want to understand the ocean, don’t ask a fish. Based on this logic, many may argue that Educational reform should not come from within the current Educational system. Perhaps a new or fresh perspective is needed. Sometimes, thinking outside of the box is healthy and reinvigorating to reform efforts, as fresh eyes can offer new perspectives that are not readily apparent to those who are immersed in a given culture or environment. Educators may need to consider other perspectives and perhaps even implement reforms based on such perspectives, if they are thoughtfully considered. Actually most Educators agree that reform is needed, but the wealth of knowledge that Educators possess should not be neglected or ignored. An outside only approach to reform disrespects the front-line perspective that teachers possess and the research that supports their discipline. A combined effort in reform is needed. An approach that values both internal and external perspectives is needed to effectively reform education.
The Rosebrough Center for Educational Practice provides these ten foundational understandings to offer a voice in support of teachers. They are intended to remind teachers that these principles are still true and effective in research and practice, even as frequently imposed reform ideas and policies run to the contrary.
- Teaching is an Art and a Science – Current accountability measures in our nation are aimed at increasing teacher effectiveness and student achievement, both of which are honorable goals. Such efforts, however, are drastically prioritizing the scientific aspect of Education to the detriment of the artistic side of teaching. Data-driven decision making and a systematic approach to instruction have a place in Education, but teacher intuition, professional opinion, and creative strategies should also have a role. Neither the art nor science of teaching should be neglected or perceived as mutually exclusive.
- Students are More than Numbers – In the United States, a business-like approach is being used to reform Education. Measuring success with a “bottom-line” mentality doesn’t fully transfer from the business world to Education. Students, like all people, are complex. Students have successes and failures, ups and downs, emotional changes, talents, abilities, skills, and motivations that make each a unique being. To try to fully quantify students and their academic improvement with numeric measures is not appropriate. A student is not an “it” like a test score, an object to be manipulated, but a learner with human potential. Parents, concerned citizens, businessmen, and political leaders may like measurable results for the authoritative value such numbers place on schools, neighborhoods, or teachers, but it is not a fair practice. Educators, perhaps more than anyone, wish students could be fully understood with a single number, as it might simplify the process of understanding the complexities of a teaching and learning. Unfortunately, pedagogy is not simple and students’ lives cannot be so easily understood and quantified.
- Education Should Support Teachers –The field or discipline of Education needs to support its teachers now more than ever. Teachers have one of the most difficult, time-consuming, and underappreciated jobs in our nation. But on top of such challenges, they are being asked to do even more than ever before. The responsibilities are high, but the support, both financial and moral, is often lackluster, to say the least. Our nation’s teachers need the support of administrators, school boards, university professors, schools of education, informed parents, and fellow educators who know the complexities of educating children. Although teachers are on the front lines in the battle against ignorance and complacency, so many others have a vital role to play in educating our nation’s children. Now more than ever, all related entities should support the work of teachers. Teachers are willing to make sacrifices for their students and profession, but many of the best are unfortunately now choosing to leave the field they love due to a culture of insurmountable pressures and misaligned priorities.
- Teachers Should Support Education – Although it perhaps seems obvious that teachers would be the greatest advocates for education, this is not always occurring, particularly in relation to the attainment of professional growth at universities. Can pursuit of a life-long learning ethic be any more vital than it is for the profession of teaching? Part of the story has been that colleges and schools of Education have been inconsistent in the quality of programs. But we might agree that other disciplines have their “inconsistency” problems, too. Powerful business and political leaders have sought to discourage teachers from pursuing advanced degrees, but teachers must be careful in not permitting such perspectives to stifle their own educational pursuits. Educators who do not support their own discipline are likely to lose their distinctive academic discipline of Education. Dewey helped us understand that Education has distinctive pillars in philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy. Such support should not occur merely for the sake of unity, but because teachers are wise enough to know that Education can and does make a vital difference, despite the current drumbeat of negativity. Accredited, quality graduate programs in Education can make a significant and positive difference in a teacher’s ability to reach and change the lives of students in terms of instruction, strategies, assessment, and so much more.
- Educational Theory Should Inform Instructional Decisions – Recent educational reform efforts have been so focused on meeting increased outcomes that they have lost sight of the importance of educational foundations and the hugely significant body of research that supports them. As the goal in education has become one that narrowly focuses on a quantitative rise in academic achievement, political leaders have found a certain appeal in teacher preparation programs that can provide such immediate results. After all, politicians usually do not stay in office very long. Although there is strength in doing what works to meet specified goals, many teacher preparation programs that are enacting such changes have chosen to constrict their focus. They are teaching for more immediate results as opposed to preparing their candidates broadly and deeply to be more informed on why certain strategies and best practices actually work. In the long term, such programs are tragically shortchanging our system of education and students.
- Assessment is More Effective with Multiple Measures – A test is only one aspect of assessment. Tests are only a snapshot of student achievement, but certainly not the whole picture. Assessment, on the other hand, embraces multiple perspectives and data points. Reform efforts have put a heavy emphasis on testing results. Such results are singular in perspective and do not portray the entirety of a student’s ability. Teachers should embrace the data available to them, as the data can and should be a meaningful way to gain insight and perspective that otherwise may not be attained on students. However, more data points and perspectives are also needed, including embracing socio-emotional goals for students’ total educational welfare.
- A Teacher’s Professional Subjective Opinion Matters – With more than a decade of attention being placed on data-driven decision-making, quantifiable results have been given more credibility than the professional judgment of those who are working with students on a daily basis. For teachers to be respected, their professional opinions should matter. State teacher evaluation policies that recognize the value of a teacher’s role in making instructional decisions are laudable because they are highly important to the level of professionalism and respect provided to teachers. To deny the perspective of teachers would be to deny one of the greatest and most valuable sources of data in the decision-making process.
- Teachers Must Teach Students How to Learn – Teachers should be praised and rewarded for allowing their students to work hard and develop independent learning habits. The day-to-day work of teachers is largely determined by, and at the mercy of, larger educational policies and standards. Established instructional goals determine what teachers do (and can’t do) in the classroom. Many teachers agree that the current system of education is not working, but they would also agree that current reform efforts are not the solution. An effective vision for Education is for teachers to insist upon teaching students how to learn. Remarkably accessible information through technology allows the fulfillment of such a vision. Teachers can take control of reform with vision and purpose. Change occurs through those who own it.
- Students Must Be Taught to be Good Citizens – Global competitiveness has been the driving force behind many political efforts to reform education. As policymakers fret over our nation’s economic health and competitive edge, attention has turned away from the basics of good citizenship. Our students need to become active and engaged citizens of first this country and then the world. Such a goal extends beyond the academic to the social dimension of Education. Getting beyond academic knowledge to social and moral understanding allows students to thrive for a lifetime. Teachers who teach only to their students’ passing the latest standardized tests are creating an educational vacuum, a generation of students whose knowledge will expire. The breadth and depth of “good” education ensures global competitiveness. Teachers who go beyond information to transformation are the stars of Education.
- Teachers Need Help in Breaking the Cycle of Poverty – Education is the single best way to make a positive, generational difference in the socioeconomic status (SES) of an individual and family. SES consists of two characteristics: 1) the overall level of education of a family and 2) the income level of a family. Although it may be faster and easier to provide a monetary benefit to an individual or family as a means to increase the SES of an individual or family, such funds, without proper support, will be short lived. Education, therefore, is the greatest single way to make a positive, generational difference in the SES of a family. One child, viewing education as important, could positively impact the long-term benefit of a family unlike any other source. Thus, one person—a teacher—can make a difference!
The reality is, however, that teachers need help in breaking the cycle of poverty. Although the impact of one teacher can impact a student’s decision to value Education, it must not be assumed that a single teacher can immediately change the lives of poverty-stricken students who come from uneducated households. Teachers need partners from other societal institutions like church, government, and media to step up and support them as they face giant generational challenges on a daily basis.
The Rosebrough Center for Educational Practice offers these foundational understandings about Education as a means of affirmation for our nation’s best teachers, and as a call to action for those who are new to the field or desiring to enter this most noble and essential profession.
To learn more about the Rosebrough Center, please visit us online at: http://www.uu.edu/centers/edpractice/.