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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

What works in education? Look at other countries.

What works in education? Look at other countries.

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It's enlightening to contrast the deficient American school system with Finland's, arguably the best in the world. Over there only the top-tier graduates are invited to apply for teaching positions, and less than 50% of those are accepted. The pay is generous, the position highly respected in the community, and teachers are left to teach, with school administrators protecting them from bureaucracy rather than adding mindless rules and regulations to their other responsibilities. I think part of the problem is the history of K-12 teaching in the US: sadly, for a long time teaching was what women did until they got married. It was never seen as a career, except for old maids. It seems to me that the status of teachers must change, perhaps with a new level of certification that's rigorous and difficult to attain, and consequently rewarded with much higher pay.

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Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

"It seems to me that the status of teachers must change, perhaps with a new level of certification that's rigorous and difficult to attain, and consequently rewarded with much higher pay."

We have advanced levels of certification (MA, PhD). Don't these already result in higher salaries?

Mary Kate

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

I forgot about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This is certainly a prestigious level of certification. Does it tip the green scale?

Mary Kate

Hector's picture

You missed a lot of things on my comment. Here in the U.S. the pay is NOT generous, the position of teacher is NOT highly respected in the community, and teachers are NOT left to teach, with school administrators NOT protecting them from bureaucracy AND adding mindless rules and regulations to their other responsibilities. Also, I don't think that the top-tier graduates of our colleges want to be teachers, because of all of the reasons mentioned above. A lot of things have to change if we want a good education system in this country.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Hector, I read your comment carefully, but was responding to your recommendation. I'm concerned that we teachers take on the mantle of reform as a teacher-led effort. While I do believe that there are positive steps which individual teachers can take, these will not be sufficient to make real change.

As long as our schools are structured with efficiency and convenience of adults as the primary concern, we will not make real headway. We have to start from a different place. Optimal learning environments are crafted around the needs of the learners, not the needs of the adults working in the environment.

The reforms which are being discussed here at Edutopia require a completely different understanding of the relationship between the child and the school. As teachers we can provide examples of what works by pursuing these reforms independently. But if we want this to take hold in any significant way we're going to need a whole lot more momentum than what has traditioanlly been provided by the individual crusading teacher.

I didn't mean to imply that the cultural factors you have cited aren't important. I just don't think they can be addressed through teacher training. In the world of private schooling we have managed to do away with a few of the challenges you describe. I don't have bureaucratic hassles and I'm free to teach. I'm not well paid, but I do feel respected.

I don't think the success of the Montessori approach is ensured by any of these differences, but by one much more fundamental. Montessori education is delivered with great respect for the needs of the child and is continually evolving in response to research.

Mary Kate

Hector's picture

Dear Mary:

I agree with you in the sense that schools have to be structured taking into account the needs of the learners, but the needs of the adults that work in schools are equally important. I have been teaching for 7 years in a public school and I have always listened that the most important thing in our work are the children. I agree, they are important, but we as teachers are important too. In the same way kids don't learn well when they are not respected and cared for, we as teachers don't work well when our boss don't respect us, when we are not rewarded with a good salary, when our rights are been destroyed by the government. I understand this changes have to be addressed in a collective way, and that is why I am sharing my thoughts with you so we can join and support the associations who are fighting for our rights as workers and teachers. Thank you.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

I think there is a good deal of common ground in our viewpoints. We both agree that the changes which are needed are much broader than what goes on within the walls of the classroom.

In my state, though, the teacher's unions have not been leaders in driving reforms that are backed by scientifically generated research. Instead, they seem to be more focused on preserving their own power and access to decision makers.

Perhaps it's time for us to move away from union-centered organization and begin organizing around other principles entirely (as we do on Edutopia message boards).

The argument that higher salaries will attract more talented people is also a problem for me. I teach because it is a calling for me. many other teachers I know feel the same way. They haven't "settled" for teaching because of an inability to perform some higher compensated role. These people have chosen to make less money in order to have a job which has meaning for them. I'm not sure that attracting people who are motivated by monetary compensation would improve our profession overall.

Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to make more money! It would make me feel more valued in this society (which rates everything on the green scale). But I don't think it would change the way in which I do my job...I might buy even more stuff for the class than I do now...

For the record: I do believe that teachers should have the right to collective bargaining...I also think we'd all be better off if we simply refused to join unions and allowed our school administrations to handle personnel decisions in the way they are handled in other professional situations. We should probably move this discussion over to the school reform forum, doncha think?

Mary Kate

Hope Rizo's picture
Hope Rizo
ESOL teacher

I think you've both been very articulate in describing your concerns. I agree with Mary Kate that most of us go into education because it's a calling and not for the money. But, I think that in reality there are people out there feel the calling and have the potential to be master teachers, but the reality of financial responsibilities keeps them away from pursuing their calling. I also agree that certifications such as NBPTS is like a light at the end of a tunnel and more and more teachers should be encouraged to go through the process. However, what happens when educators fail the process and yet stay on in our school systems? An important change that I think needs to be made in our country is the promotion of parenting skills and an understanding of the urgency of a solid education. I think that parents who can afford a Montessori education for their children understand the importance of good parenting and value education. But I have had too many parents who are not willing or able to attend conferences, take an active role in their child's education and take the time to monitor television and consumerism and instill a healthy work ethic and collaboration skills in their children. What are your thoughts?

Stephanie K.'s picture
Stephanie K.
High School Spanish 2

I taught in Mexico for 5 years before returning to the US. Granted, this was a bilingual private elementary school in MX. The students, administrators, parents, and teacher communities worked together to support and uphold the position of teachers as persons of cherished importance. This social commitment is reciprocal. Because the community supports the teacher, the teacher does not need to feel defensive when confronted with disciplinary issues. The teacher has the freedom and moral responsibility to care for the students and teach them as if they were extended family. The administration, teachers, and parents have already agreed on proper procedures and have communicated their expectations to the students on numerous occasions. It takes a village to raise a child. When all parties are in constant positive communication with one another, the system works. This is where the US education system falls deficient. We have a critical breakdown in effective communication among all parties involved with the education of the child. We also have vastly different opinions from all angles of the equation in regards to what is and is not appropriate to expect from the student. When everyone agrees to work together and keep each other informed and in check, there is a fluid give and take. The result is a safe, nurturing environment. In the US, I do not work in a safe, nurturing environment. Student behavior is confrontational, sometimes frighteningly so. More disturbing is the behavior of some parents, who support their child's misbehavior. And if the administration is not firm in support of the teacher, the system fails in every way. Another important difference: in Mexico, even in the public schools, if a student is excessively disruptive, the teacher, not just a head administrator, has the right to send the student out of the classroom for as long as the teacher deems necessary. It could be a day or the rest of the school year. Does this lead to other social problems with wandering children in the community? Yes. There is a huge social class gap between the educated and uneducated in Latin America as well as poverty at a level the US does not have. I would like to know the basis of other countries' educational systems and how they affect the socio-economic aspect of their communities.

Eyal Kaminka, Phd.'s picture
Eyal Kaminka, Phd.
Leading Educator at Joytunes

Wow, so many points, so much to respond to. I'll say only this: relatively, the US is aware of its needs and has a solid educational ground. Teachers don't earn like they should have, but they earn enough to become proud middle class. There are many countries where teachers belong to the lower class of society in terms of income and social position. Improvements must be made, but don't feel that the education system is collapsing, because its not. We should attempt to optimize all the time and not rest since the optimization is endless.

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