Reflections On Teaching

One teacher's response to a recent opinion essay in Patch about teaching.

Heather Borden Herve’s recent opinion essay about teachers and the teaching profession encouraged so many responses that I was reluctant to add one more, but it’s difficult to resist commenting on the profession that was my career. I wouldn’t waste my time responding to a predominantly negative attack on teachers, but Heather’s essay is positive, for the most part, especially in its support of good teachers and the important work they do.

Anyone who has been a teacher for many years knows the positive effects of his/her efforts on the students in their care. I use the word care because it includes more than a knowledge of subject matter; it describes the formation of character and attitude, which is part of teaching.

"Why are we arguing about what we pay good teachers?” is one of Heather’s central questions and issues. The main reason is that public school salaries are paid by citizens’ taxes, and private school salaries are paid by tuition and
fund-raising. Everyone wants to see their money well spent, and some people
don’t agree that there is nothing more important than the quality of education
a society provides for its youth. I will not attempt to change the minds of
such people; the evidence is everywhere. One need only be aware of the salaries
of people in business, science, sports, etc. to know that teachers’ salaries
are ridiculously low.

I am in favor of merit pay for teachers; there are few other professions which do
not reward success according to certain criteria. In teaching, success should
be measured and merit pay given for more than high test scores, because
education involves much more. It is more than acquiring the skills needed for a
career. It includes the development of character and growth of the individual
into a good person and responsible citizen.

"We shouldn’t be demonizing teachers as a whole,” Heather contends, “but ferreting out the bad ones.”  Who would disagree, except teachers who are not doing their job? It’s true that teachers unions and teacher tenure sometimes prevent the dismissal of poor teachers, but they also protect good teachers. I’m not sure about the solution to this situation; it’s one that will have to be worked out perhaps by all parties involved – teachers, parents, students.

“Teachers deserve more respect,” Heather concludes. It’s been my experience that those teachers who earn respect, by doing their job well and holding their students
to high standards (academic and personal) usually receive it. One of the most concise and profound statements about teaching was written by Henry Adams more than a century ago: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Pam Georgas January 20, 2012 at 01:36 PM
I don't think anyone denies the impact that teachers have on our children. I think the point is that all of the aspects, including the more psychological, personal aspects of teaching and being taught are in fact measurable, and can lead to identifying what makes an effective teacher. Measuring effectiveness can lead to better practices, which helps the teachers, and the students. For those that doubt that all of this is measurable, I can say from experience that it is. I worked for a Sports & Entertainment marketing agency for many years, they have a database called 'Passion drivers', it not only could tell us what brand hotdog Jets fans preferred, but delved into the psychology of why they preferred them. People worry about government and ' big brother'. Forget about it, private companies have all this personal data on you, and then some. There is not much we can hide any more. If you eat, sleep, and breathe, there is personal data on you out there.
Pam Georgas January 20, 2012 at 02:01 PM
One more thought, millions of dollars are spent on curriculum development, and other teaching methodologies. By not measuring teacher performance, against these set goals, we are not following through to the end result. It would be like developing a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, but not checking to see if you put the chips in when you made the dough.
Joan January 20, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Pam, I think you are simplifying things a bit too much. Psychographic marketing research regarding identifying why people prefer certain brands of hotdogs, etc., is not really comparable to measuring the more ephemeral qualities that make a great teacher. Absolutely not the same thing at all, with all due respect.
Joan January 20, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Pam, again, curriculum development is not a "teaching methodology." While certain more experienced teachers do get involved in curriculum writing, it is not one of the basic duties involved with being a classroom teacher.
Pam Georgas January 20, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Joan, I understand, but teachers are the recipients of curriculum development, they implement the curriculum, they and the students are the end result. If we do not measure their performance using a number of combined methods, we won't know the results of their efforts in delivering the curriculum, the longterm effects of our practices, and how children respond and learn. I also understand that the passion behind sports, (or hotdogs) is different than the business & psychology of teaching, but it is absolutely still all measurable, if you use the right tools to do so. There is nothing simple about the process I am referring to, it is actually rather complex. The two more commonly used methods of teacher evaluation that are currently practiced should be revisited, and updated. I am not talking specifically about Trumbull, as I am not sure exactly what their process is. This is also not meant as a criticism of teachers or any specific school system. I am sure most school systems and teachers would all be in agreement with better evaluation standards. I am currently working on a report that is very relevant to this topic, I will ask permission to post it when it is released.
Cindy Katske January 20, 2012 at 07:19 PM
I'm not sure I understand your statement that "the more psychological, personal aspects of teaching and being taught are in fact measurable." I don't get the comparison to measuring a preferred brand of hot dog. Are we talking about measuring teachers' ability to affect "the development of character and growth of the individual into a good person and responsible citizen," as stated in Mr. Izzo's piece?
Pam Georgas January 20, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Yes, I am saying I think it can all be measured. The reference to measuring the emotion/passion behind sports (fans), or love of hotdogs was just a statement meant to emphasize that anything can be measured, including what some would refer to as non-tangibles such as emotion, compassion, and passion. If there is an' X-factor' in some teachers that can not be identified/measured, I think it would be rare, and only a matter of time before someone found a way to pinpoint it. This is all good, if it leads to better training, better teacher retention, and more successful students. Of course all this re-evaluation would cost money, which is something that may be hard to find right now.
Joan January 20, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Pam, what you are suggesting here might be better used as tool to HIRE teachers, not to evaluate them. I can see school districts administering a questionnaire with a battery of attitudinal statements, for example, to try to discriminate among those who have the "passion" or whatever you want to call it for teaching, versus those who don't. These methods are good for selecting or describing different groups of people, not necessarily measuring performance. I am not debating that teacher performance can & should be measured more effectively. I'm just saying that your hotdog preference analogy doesn't work here.
Pam Georgas January 20, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Joan, I disagree. I think we are going to just have to agree to disagree. The kind of process I am referring to is much more complex than a few personality interview questions at the time of hire. A combination of methods should be used regularly to measure, evaluate, and record results of teachers, teaching, and student success. IMO, These methods and criteria should include among other things, capturing information on what some believe to be non tangibles, such as compassion, passion, etc. I
Joan January 21, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Pam, I'm curious. Have you worked in the education field, or do you have a background in education? I agree that there should be better ways of measuring teacher performance. I just think you are missing some of the complexity, including the interplay of the student mix a particular teacher has, the resources and support available to the teacher, and the teacher's own training and abilities. I think that the business world may have some tools to lend to this process, but there are big differences between the fields of business and education.
Pam Georgas January 21, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Everything you mentioned, resourses and support, interplay between student and teacher, etc., should actually be part of creating an effective evaluation system. I do not work in the education field, but have a client that produces reports that collects/compiles research/data on education, everything from best practices for teacher retention, teacher training, teacher salaries, Early education, to data on student performance, student suspension, class size, school behavior, and much more. They do make some recommendations for improvement, to the state, and local schools based on the data they compile. They also look at other aspects of a children's life, and how it interplays.y


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