COLUMN: Teachers’s role is helping each student reach their potential

-A A +A

By WENDY ALVEY, Guest Columnist

I’ve never written a letter to the editor, but I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the discussion at hand regarding matching teacher pay to student test scores.

If the teacher is doing his or her job, then it should follow that the student should learn. My husband is a teacher and he arrives, along with several other teachers, at school no later than 6:45 a.m. each school day. He is available from that time until the start of the school day at 8 a.m. to tutor and provide remediation to any student in need.

He allows students who have done poorly on a test to review the material and make another effort at improving their grade. In all the years he has been giving his time, only a handful of students who actually need to take advantage of this opportunity. What he often finds is that students who already work hard during class and at home are the same students who show up early.

While teachers should have standards to meet, I’m asking what responsibility the student has for his or her own learning. Are we really saying that teachers should be evaluated based on students who show up late to school, are regularly absent, fail to turn in assignments and miss exams?

What more can be expected if the student chooses not to participate in the learning process? In addition, do we really believe that we are all born with the same abilities, with the same IQ and that we all learn in the same way at the same time? Are we truly interested in the education of our children or are we seeking ways to cut funding and camouflaging it as merit pay?

I would say that most people believe that we are all individuals with different abilities and talents. The No Child Left Behind mandate should really be Each Child to Their Own Potential. Instead of testing children against each other, or comparing them to the class that went before, the child should be measured based on their own accomplishments from year to year. Shouldn’t the real measure be the individual child improving in his or her own knowledge and skills?

There is a push for additional charter school funding as it appears they outperform our “failing” public schools. Signature School, Indiana’s first Charter School, can boast of high scores and exceptional distinction.

Signature is a public school that is open to all students. However, the Web site indicates that Signature School is for “self-motivated learners.” In addition, the course work is described as challenging with the expectation that incoming freshmen will be prepared to take the Algebra I honors class.

These statements eliminate an entire subset of students. Students who are not ready to take an Algebra I honors class would never consider applying. So while Signature School is a public school, the charter is set up to attract those students who are already high achievers, thus pulling those students out of the public school setting. While public schools should be looking for ways to improve, comparing them to a charter school that doesn’t serve the same demographic of students is impossible.

Public Schools are providing much more than an education. School personnel often take on the job of parenting and counseling. They provide day care for teenage parents and they are the primary place where a vast majority of children receive their only food for the day. Public schools teach not only those who are “self-motivated learners,” they must meet the challenge of those students who would rather be any other place than at school. Public schools must meet the needs of students with physical and mental disabilities and help them meet the same standards of learning as all other students.

Public schools are also healthcare centers as they must provide physical, occupational and speech therapy to those students requiring these services.
Public schools meet the needs of all children, not just a select few. In short, comparing a charter school to a public school is unreasonable as the similarities are few or nonexistent.

I get the impression that the current governor wants to run our school system in Indiana as if it were a business. The talk is that business people get increases in pay based on their performance. While this may very well be the case, I have worked in several different business settings and more often than not, people get paid based on their years of service.

In addition, most recently we've seen that private industry rewards those at the top regardless of how they perform. For instance, the banking industry continued to pay huge salaries and bonuses even as they failed and taxpayers bailed them out. If we run schools like a business, then based on the education level of the teacher we must assume they are a manager; the manager of the classroom.

With this analogy in place, as the manager of the classroom they should be able to “hire” the students that they think will do the best job (“self-motivated learners”) and they should be able to “fire” those students who don't meet the productivity requirements.

A manager can shine with a team of motivated employees, but educators don’t get to pick and choose their students; they are called and required to teach everyone.

The subject of tenure is a hot topic. I think historically tenure was to ensure that teachers could have academic freedom and speak out on behalf of the needs of their students without facing termination. Many female teachers benefited from tenure as it was once common practice to dismiss them from employment based on marriage or pregnancy. Since the state of Indiana is an “at will” employer, I feel tenure should continue to be in place.

Teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world because they have to deal with us, the parent. Let’s face it, when it comes to our children we can become irrational beings.

Have you attended a sporting event lately and watched some mild-mannered parent turn into something unrecognizable when their child is benched by the coach or the official makes an unpopular call?

How do we protect the profession from a parent who is not happy with his child’s poor grade in music and is willing to donate enough money for new band equipment upon the condition of terminating the music teacher? Who protects the science teacher when she teaches evolution if the school board decides that creationism is the only version of science to be taught in the classroom?

I understand that many people see tenure as protecting the nonperforming teacher. However, with diligent performance appraisals and detailed paperwork even the most “tenured” teacher can be released. Close attention should be paid to teachers during the first few years of employment.

I would guess that most of the nonperforming tenured teachers were nonperforming new teachers who were allowed to slip through an inadequate system of performance appraisal.

I realize our public schools have room for improvement, but what I don’t understand is why our elected officials are taking such a combative approach in fixing the problem. It is a complicated system that must meet the needs of a wide variety of children. I’m shocked at the finger-pointing tactics and blame that is being leveled at educators.

If it is a funding issue, then let’s take public schools back in time and offer only the three R’s with no extracurricular activities, no sports and no support system for social and economic deficiencies, or physical and mental disabilities. This would certainly meet the goal of cutting costs and put the focus only on improving test scores.

However, what makes this country exceptional, that no other country can seem to duplicate, is our diversity in thought and our ingenuity. While other countries may achieve high scores on math and science exams, they don’t often figure out how to take their memorization skills from the test page to reality. Our individuality sets us apart and it generates the atmosphere for creativity.

I find it a shame that our educational system is being forced to make our children march to the same drummer even though we instinctively know that no matter our abilities or disabilities, we all have something to offer.

Alvey lives in Tell City.