November 13, 2015 – What does it take to make a great teacher? An expert group of educators, policymakers and others had been working for quite some time to answer that question and came up with a better, more consistent system in Michigan for making sure that our teaching force is the best it can be, for our most advantaged and most challenged students alike. One of the takeaways from that process demonstrated in the teacher evaluation legislation recently signed by the Governor is that better training and support is necessary so that teachers can use their talents to the best of their abilities.
What supports a great teacher? Certainly the ability to have time in the classroom to use what they have spent years learning – to help students build knowledge and skills. For some, that is in specific topic areas; for some, that is about fostering and supporting a love of learning for younger kids; for some, it is about getting kids who are struggling back on track; and for some it is about making sure we continue to challenge the imagination and creativity of those who excel. Not surprisingly, teachers report that they can better utilize their skills when kids come to school ready to learn. Unfortunately, there are a host of things that prevent kids from optimal learning in the classroom that are impossible for teachers to address on their own. Teachers are better able to teach and students are better able to learn when:
- – kids don’t come into the classroom hungry, or when they don’t come in with a toothache as supported by integrating nutrition and health services in the schools;
- – kids are not feeling intimidated by other kids or school staff, or feeling unsafe at home and on the way to school, which is improved by utilizing positive behavior supports and other evidenced discipline strategies;
- – older students have a manageable job after school that they want and need, and when students have had the opportunity to catch up when they fall behind and stay motivated after school and in the summer, made possible through investment in community partnerships and expanded learning;
- – young people have been able to manage their addictions, mental health or other special needs and other members of their family have been able to do the same through access to those services in school buildings and in the community;
- – student behaviors are managed well in the school system by recognizing behaviors borne of trauma and addressing them through that lens; and
- – their parents are able to build their own skills to help and encourage them at home and have the time together at home to use those skills, as supported through adult and community education programs and family friendly work supports.
Everyone knows that educational, career and life success are not built in the classroom alone. Because all of our systems, not just the K-12 system, don’t work as well as they should and often don’t work together, disparities in literacy emerge as early as nine months of age. Those gaps can continue to grow throughout educational careers without appropriate attention and intervention. In addition, future state budgets will be stressed by recent road funding decisions and inadequate revenue putting other critical state investments at risk.
Despite these challenges, Michigan must find a way to commit investments for teachers and the children, youth, families and communities they serve. To do otherwise would fail to move ahead in the work started by this teacher evaluation legislation. As we better evaluate teachers, we must also ensure that they have the support they need to succeed.
– Michele Corey