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.

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2 Responses to It’s the teachers and only the teachers.

  1. irena says:

    I would like to share my friends with you the feedback from one of my parents: Sincerely, Irena Burmistrovich

    Nicky loves her math class with you. One of the reasons she comes to the class every week is because she is so motivated and loves to be challenged with all the math skills., thanks to you to keep her so motivated and interested. Another reason for her to come is just seeing you! :) she really likes and adores you. She likes to talk to you, learn from you and spend time with you in the class. I really appreciate your attention to the individual students and as a former teacher I know it is not always easy to do so. She loves doing her homework and figuring out challenging problems. She is mostly self starter which makes it easier on the parents. The only issue sometimes coming up is that she is a little tired after school which is quite expected for a 6.5 years old kid and we have talked to her to switch to Saturdays but she does not want to miss your class so I’m guessing she is trying to find a way to overcome her tiredness at 3:00 in the afternoons. She always leaves your class with a big smile which I love. One of the reasons I don’t get to talk to you before or after the class is that my 4.5 year old son is with me and he is usually not that patient. Nicky is going to have another little brother soon, Dec 22nd, and she is very very excited and happy about it. Her father and I try to keep everything under control and make it an enjoyable experience for everyone in the family but sometimes it can get a little tough with a new born and two little ones. It would be great if you let me know if Nicky may experience any changes in her routine or learning process, if she is distracted, stressed, or any possible outcome. She used to get all the attention as the first child and now she has to share it with two little ones. Nicky had always been a great big sister and very understanding and mature and I’m hoping for the same thing this time too. Please keep in touch and thanks for your lovely smile and wonderful teaching.

  2. Sasha says:

    I completely agree that the quality of a teacher is the most important aspect of an education. For me, the real question is, how do you train someone to be a “good” or a “great” teacher? There are people who are naturally great at dealing with kids, but we can’t rely on that alone. There are also people who are experts in math, history, physics, etc. Being an expert is not enough either. How do you train someone to combine knowledge as well as people skills? From what I know about some current teacher training programs, I don’t think our current system is built to ensure that we have good teachers.

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