Note: The first article in this series, “What Happens When Teachers Aren’t in Control of Education?”, was printed in the Deseret News on Sept. 9, 2017. This is a follow-up and extension of that article. The views of the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Deseret News.
In our first article in this series, we asked how schools would be different if teachers had a major voice in designing reform. In this article we ask: What are the appropriate professional responsibilities teachers should have?
Teaching is a mixture of art and science. There is no certainty as to what can happen in a classroom at any time. Effective teachers adjust to whatever conditions present themselves. To operate in these situations requires that teachers act as professionals, having maximum freedom. Teachers should be given the responsibilities that define a profession. Here they are:
1) The first and most important responsibility is to show love, respect and caring for each student. This requires that teachers help each student to identify his or her strengths, abilities, talents and interests. Teachers assist students to aspire to become productive members of society and contribute to the public good. Working in tandem with parents, teachers have the responsibility of providing learning activities that make it possible for each student to achieve his or her amazing, genius potential. These services are characteristic of effective schools and extraordinary teachers.
2) It is important that teachers have complete control over curriculum and teaching strategies because every child is different from all others and has different interests, strengths and talents to be developed. Schools should provide an array of learning possibilities: self-selected learning, project experimentation, the arts, mentoring experiences and adult-directed learning. When a child is ready to learn a particular item is a professional judgment made by a teacher or a selection made by the student. Similarly, what teaching strategies are to be used and the materials to accompany them are the responsibility of teachers. Teachers have the knowledge and the appreciation to determine the appropriate time an item ought to be taught. The teacher also knows what materials will result in maximum learning. Without having control of curriculum, teachers cannot be held accountable.
3) Professions are self-evaluation systems. Individuals in any profession evaluate the work of their colleagues. They bring charges against those who do not follow professional standards and/or ethics. It has been shown by studies (Rand Corporation) that teachers can evaluate the work of other teachers as well as, or better than, school administrators. Teachers are also more aggressive in terminating colleagues who should be terminated.
4) Evaluation of learning is a judgment, not a test. These judgments are much more accurate than standardized tests. Teachers develop their own assessment measures. There is no greater absurdity than having a test score be considered more important than teacher judgment. A teacher teaches a child for 185 days and then the state gives the child a test. The teacher's judgment is far superior to the certainty of a test score given on a particular day. There may be some variability in the teacher's judgment, but the certainty of the test score is absurd. No test is more meaningful than the teacher's judgment about the child's attitudes and what the child has or has not learned.
Teachers who are not willing or able to take on these responsibilities should find a different line of work. Education, as the Founders back to the ancient Greeks believed, is the fundamental ingredient that makes democracy possible. That is also the belief of all national leaders, particularly those in political office. It is the work of teachers that makes general education possible. It is time to give teachers the professional responsibilities that will enrich our nation with a learned and effective citizenry.
M. Donald Thomas is a former Salt Lake City superintendent of schools and now a national education consultant, [email protected]. Lynn Stoddard has many years of experience as a teacher, principal, author and conference speaker, [email protected].