Fox News and CNN recently ran almost simultaneous specials on education in America. Both programs came to the same, and in my eyes simply obvious, conclusion. To borrow from Clinton’s catch-phrase: It’s the teacher, stupid! As with everything else in life, people make the difference. Process, policies, and technology will always be secondary to a PERSON.
Lucky are those with smart parents. Stories of any one person’s success frequently begin with the involvement and guidance of their parents. Equally lucky are those who with smart mentors. Good mentorship often makes the difference between a brilliant career and a decent one.
Teachers are the adults, outside of the immediate family circle, whom children are most exposed to. So, a poor teacher can turn a very bright child into a troublemaker in no time. Smart children need dynamic education, and action. They are demanding, and if they cannot be sufficiently challenged they will start to entertain themselves. This is the beginning of possible trouble.
When my own children were in school, I could always identify if they had a poor teacher – their grades were always lower, and their homework was never done. Any reason was a good one to skip class. On the other hand, I always knew if a teacher was great. They always became a part of our family life for that year.
It is unfortunate that in American public schools, teachers change ever year. It takes time to develop a relationship. As a result teachers are never invested enough in their students and students are never attached enough to be truly influenced by a great teacher. On the contrary, the benefit is that students can never be deeply hurt by a bad one either.
The fuss that is currently being made about curriculums is overblown. Of course curriculum is important, but a strong curriculum can only be taught by a very knowledgeable teacher. I used to tell to my husband that our children were immediately dumbed down the second they left the house. Inside the house they were encouraged to watch political news delivered by CNN and Fox; inside the house they were encouraged to debate; inside the house they were encouraged to think. Outside of the house, they were encouraged to behave, to memorize, and to avoid any arguments with their teacher.
As an escapee of the former Soviet Union, the American public education system came as a shock. It is the same, well-known model where everyone knows the unwritten rule: do not fight the system. When it comes to teachers, the public education system rejects meritocracy, rewards mediocrity, and punishes the achievers. Why are we surprised with the results?
Only excellent teachers can bring excellence in education. The number of students in the class, the amount of time spent in school, and the dollar amount spent on each student – all are irrelevant. We could easily have a great teacher with a black board and chalk, 45 students in a class, and a school day that ends at 1:45pm, and still have very well educated students.