By guest columnist James D. Kirylo
It is said that education is the great equalizer. Yet, we know when it comes to resources, opportunity, and the quality of a teacher, not all educational experiences are equal. Then we react with a bevy of voices coming from a variety of corners on how to better equalize the great equalizer. To be sure, when making sense of gray matter, complexity, and multi-layered challenges inherent in education, the solutions are not easy.
Yet, when it comes to navigating through this entangled web, a leading thread to direct that charge ought to have the name “teacher” at its pinpoint. There are few absolutes when it comes to education. And of those few, one is this: There is positive correlation between a high quality teacher and student success.
It is, therefore, logical that if we want to move toward educational transformation, we need to ensure that teacher education is right up there on the priority list. It is no coincidence that high achieving countries, like Singapore, South Korea, and Finland are quite selective as to who teaches their youth, how they prepare those who are to teach their youth, and how they maintain ongoing development while teaching their youth.
That a common thread in high-achieving countries is an elevated priority on teacher education ought to raise our collective sensibilities, stirring movement toward embracing that model right here in Louisiana. To that end, the following summarizes what we need to qualitatively do in our backyard if we expect to move toward long-lasting transformative educational change:
- Entrance requirements and processes into teacher education programs need to be more rigorous and more selective.
- Those who are accepted into teacher education programs should be provided tuition waivers, grants, and other incentivizing initiatives.
- Teacher education programs across the state must be creatively innovative, systematic, and unified in which not only content knowledge is emphasized, but also concepts, practices, and theories related to human development, pedagogy, curriculum, and learning are thoroughly explored in light of the diverse country in which we live.
- Field experiences and rich mentorships are emphasized that works to connect the thoughtful relationship between theory and practice.
- Upon graduation, teacher candidates leave their programs with great expertise, expectation, and adulation as they move into the teaching profession.
- Once in the classroom, teachers regularly engage in ongoing and meaningful professional development, with them at the center of facilitating that endeavor.
- The school curriculum in which teachers teach is wide-ranging, with an inclusive priority on the various arts, physical education, and foreign language.
- When it comes to curricula, assessment, and evaluation decisions at the school setting, teachers are integral members at the table.
- At the school setting, a test-centric focus has to be abandoned and replaced with a learning-centric focus that is energizing, inspiring, and imaginative.
- Students, teachers, and schools are not in competition with one another, but work to cooperate, collaborate, and lift each other up.
- All schools, regardless of location and economic demographic have equal access to quality resources, material, and high quality teachers.
- The teaching profession is viewed with great respect, indicative of the competitive salaries, the working conditions in which teachers are placed, and how teachers are professionally viewed, treated, and honored.
- A top-down hierarchal structure needs to be replaced with a teacher leadership empowerment structure.
- “Fast-track” teacher training programs, such as TFA and LRCE, are not acceptable routes to teach our youth.
- The waiving of requirements for those going into administrative type roles are not acceptable routes to work in leadership positions in our schools, systems, and state.
- Only well-prepared, qualified, and certified teachers from high quality teacher education programs must teach our youth.
While there are certainly some examples of good efforts occurring in teacher education programs in our state, we are not doing nearly enough. Without doubt, if we are to move toward educational transformation in Louisiana, the systematic prioritization of teacher education is a must, the fostering of the professionalization of teaching is vital, and ultimately education must be viewed as an investment in which the entire state can be richly furthered. Indeed, our international friends have provided us with an outstanding model.
(James D. Kirylo is an education professor, a former state teacher of the year, and his most recent book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)