No more need for teachers who are special in a student’s life?
A recent editorial by a Kansas superintendent stated that in the past, some students succeeded because an "individual teacher happened to take interest in him." But now, in many "school systems across Kansas, success does not depend on a chance encounter with a special teacher. Success is ensured because we have built a system of support for every child."
The more my high school and college colleagues and I think about this proclamation, the angrier we get. It fairly blatantly asserts that there is a system in place that now replaces the need to have teachers who change students’ lives. "The system" will take care of them, and teachers are merely cogs in that system.
The new program being touted is the Multi-Tier Support System (MTSS), a system that is currently being promoted by the KSDE across Kansas. It also flies the flag of "differentiated instruction" and "fully-collaborative teaching." It brags that teachers can no longer be "lone rangers"; they must cooperate to provide individualized instruction to students having trouble..
As a teacher-trainer who works with colleagues to turn out unique teachers who do change students lives, I find this superintendent’s promotion of program over professionals to be an insult. And it should be a worry for Kansas parents.
Most people can remember a teacher who changed their life. The teacher may have put in the extra work to help you catch up in reading. Or helped you finally work math problem that others could do, but you couldn’t quite get. But the really special teachers where those who also believed in you. You worked harder just for them. And they asked about you long after you had left their classrooms.
No, not everyone has the same special teachers. Students vary and teachers vary, and the teacher special to you was not the teacher special to others. But when you perform well later in life, you stop to reflect "Mrs. Smith would be proud of me." Because of Mrs. Smith’s work with you, and her belief in you, you can do what you did today. She was not part of some team assigned to care for you.
For school administrators to dismiss unique teachers and proclaim that the "system" will take care of everyone, may raise scores but it doesn’t change lives. When a student is diagnosed as needing help in reading or math, the MTSS team is brought in to solve the problem. They are not there to have any special interest in the student, but to bring the student’s scores up to par. That "system that ensures success for all students," reduces to machinery for raising test scores. It is a far cry from the richness of caring professionals that extends far beyond making AYP (adequate yearly progress).
When administrators believe in programs rather than professionals, it becomes harder to convince college students to enter a field where they will be cogs in a machine.
If you have good people, you can have a good program. But if you do not have good people, no program—no matter how "good"—will work.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.