Well-trained well-paid teachers are the key to dynamic education
Arizona Daily Star
I spent a recent morning out of my office, away from the meetings, calls and e-mails that often dominate a typical day.
On this day, I shadowed a high school student, attending all his morning classes: Spanish, English, anatomy/physiology and algebra. We often talk about the "aha" experience students have when concepts suddenly make sense after hours of intense study and instruction.
I have visited and observed hundreds of teachers in my career. But for some reason, this shadow experience was my defining "aha" moment.
Observing these teachers expertly practicing their craft and sensing the real-time impact on student learning reinforced and crystallized my strong belief that the most powerful correlation to student achievement and success is the teacher's skill, knowledge and attitude.
After thanking the student for not referring to me as his "grandfather" when his peers asked who the gray-haired dude was following him around, I returned to my office wishing I could have videotaped my morning and sent copies to everyone who cares and is concerned about schools and our kids' futures.
Watching this video, you would have seen teachers actively engaging students from the minute they walked through the door until dismissal.
You would have seen dynamic and authentic learning, like identifying all 206 bones while constructing a life-size human skeleton and using graphing calculators to solve complex equations.
You would have felt the warm, positive and respectful relationship between students and teachers. You would have been impressed with the teachers' command of their subject content, while at the same time marveled at their ability to transform this knowledge into small and understandable chunks so the students' "light bulbs" could flash, and flash often.
Effective teachers always engage their students in closure activities after teaching a significant concept. They do this in an effort to hook learning permanently to the students' short- and long- term memory.
I will take their lead and trigger closure to this personal, significant learning experience. We frequently bring closure by having students think about two questions: What did I learn and what I am going to do with it now that I have learned it?
What I learned is that teaching is very complex and requires teachers to possess extraordinary skills and knowledge, along with a unique attitude that balances patience with high expectations.
Now, what I am going to do with it is get up on my superintendent soapbox and express three strategies that will support teachers in their quest to get the best from students.
● Colleges of education need to continue to focus on field-based practice. The earlier, longer and more intense exposure pre-service teachers have to expert teachers the better.
● Policy-makers need to make teacher salaries a top priority for the next couple of years until the teaching profession catches up to other comparable professions.
● Finally, schools need to make teacher professional development and follow-up coaching an absolute priority while increasing the time administrators, like me, spend out of their office and in students' shadows.
Nicholas I. Clement is superintendent of the Flowing Wells Unified School District. His email address is ClementN@flowingwells.k12.az.us