The teacher is at the heart of a student’s learning experience at school. Research shows that excellent teachers impact the lives of students in many ways, from academic learning outcomes, to lifetime earning potential. It makes sense then to pay a lot of attention to what helps teachers do their best work.
Speaking from personal experience gained from working in many schools, I know that it takes an incredible amount of time and effort to become an accomplished teacher, and that the skills of the best teachers continue to develop over the span of a career. I also know that teachers need help if they are to maximize their potential as professionals.
What teachers need are structures that support their growth: schedules that allow for strong working relationships with colleagues; leadership that promotes regular, thoughtful, inclusive dialogue; collegial decision-making systems; career paths that recognize that teachers grow over the course of a career and need new challenges; moderate student loads; meaningful professional development tailored to meet the individual; pay that validates education as a state priority and encourages teachers to stay in the profession over the long haul so that students can reap the benefits of their experience.
Educationally high-performing countries, as well as those on the rise, have understood that the single most important ingredient in producing successful student learning outcomes is the teacher, and their educational agendas are directed toward providing teachers with what they need to do their best work. One ingredient teachers need is time. The United States stands alone in the paucity of time we provide our teachers for anything other than classroom teaching. This is why our teachers are stressed, their curriculum often weak, and their understanding of individual student needs limited. They simply do not have the time they must be given to do their best work.
Those who lead schools and school districts in Maine should be sure to focus on building and maintaining the structures that support teacher growth. In the charged world that is daily life in school districts, it is difficult to build explicit, inclusive, thoughtful systems intended to promote teacher growth. However this is exactly what is most important to improving student learning – it is more important than many of the business items that swallow school board and administrative time.
We would get much more for our money by investing in our teachers than in expenditures devoted to expanded technology, new testing, new grading systems, teacher evaluation plans, or school ranking systems. When we neglect the growth of our teachers we are basically throwing our taxpayer dollars right down the drain.