How to get teachers to teach and students to learn

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by Rita F. Pierson

(CNN) — I have been a professional educator for 40 years. I have worked at every level of the public school spectrum—elementary through high school. Having been in education for such a long time, I have witnessed many changes, all aimed at school improvement. Needless to say, not all the suggestions have been sensible.

What may appear to be a good idea on paper, or when sitting around a table in discussion of it, does not always make for good reality, especially at the schoolhouse.

It is important to note that most of the dictates for schools are proposed by people who have never taught. Regardless of the studies and research aimed at school improvement, I believe good educators have always known what makes schools work more efficiently. However, we get bogged down in rhetoric and what is “hot” at the moment. I believe that sustained school improvement will take guts (good old fashioned courage), focus and stamina. Here are a few tenets that make sense to me:

If a child is not present at school, he or she cannot possibly learn. Schools that consistently report high student achievement consistently have students with great attendance. Yet one of our greatest school problems is student attendance. Why do we have to beg parents to get their children to school, to convince them that we need their children present and as stress free as possible? A parent asked me once why her child needed to come to school every day. She was actually upset that the school district had a policy that addressed absent and tardy children. She said it was not the school’s business to tell her how to raise her children.

Of course, that did not make sense. Students are often caught in the middle of home/school discord. We should be on the same page! In an ideal world, all parents would recognize the need for excellence and consistency. Until the world reaches that ideal state, we must continue to strive for improved communication between home and school.

All children must have a champion, one who makes solid and sensible decisions that will help them grow into mature, happy and reliable adults. It does not have to be a parent, but it has to be someone.

And while it makes sense to hold home to a standard, where are our standards for educators? Why do we allow incompetence to remain? Doing so does not make sense. Many poor teachers stay on the job for decades and it is often the poorest schools that are saddled with the poorest teachers. I am not aware of any corporate entity (other than schools) that passes incompetence around in a circle.

If it is proven that a teacher can’t teach (as indicated by low student performance, low enthusiasm, non-existent relationships with students and co-workers) why aren’t they fired?

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