Quality Education Depends on Quality Teachers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Although not many school bells ring any more, it is that time of year again and both children and their parents are anxious about who their teachers will be.

I can well recall my youngsters hoping for the teacher whom they deemed “the best” and offering up every kind of prayer to avoid that “other” teacher for whatever the class might be.

And during the early years in school for children it is an anxiety parents carry themselves, but as our children mature they seek the “nice” teachers (read, “The ones who are easy on me”), and usually in the last two, maybe three, years of schooling they truly want those teachers who will best prepare them for their next educational adventure.

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So, the title of this column is both obvious and even borders on being trite, but it is nonetheless a self-evident proposition – the quality of an education is in direct proportion to the quality of the teacher.

What is universally true, however, is that all of us want the teacher who is “the best”.

And the quest remains – how do we ensure that every one of our students enjoys the educational experience which can be provided by “the best” teachers?

In short, how can we find, train, and keep those pedagogists who become everlasting inspirations for our students?

I will preface what follows here with the declaration that I believe that, for whatever reasons, we here in Demopolis are blessed to have outstanding teachers, highly effective school administrators, and an exemplary district administration.

Sadly, that is not the case with other districts throughout this great Nation, indeed, throughout the great State of Alabama.

Hence, my observations apply more to an overall approach and philosophy of teacher preparation as opposed to a direct application to our school district.

This is essentially because I believe that the educational hierarchy here already is doing an outstanding job of answering the question of attracting and keeping quality teachers.

The fact of success on students’ parts is in direct relation to the quality of the teacher has been established again and again.

Even during the furor over bussing students, which challenged every school district in America, one of the prominent arguments was to give students the opportunity to have access to and to experience the “good” teachers.

Of course, my proposal to bus the teachers, not the students, was met with less than enthusiastic aplomb back in the early days of the bussing issue.

There is no doubt that quality teachers are the backbone of our entire educational system.

They inspire, challenge, cajole, smile, frown, and, in general, motivate their students to want to become good scholars.

So, just how do we ensure quality teachers? Linda Darling-Hammond

of the National Commission on Teaching&America’s Future has outlined some items, which can do just that.

She addressed the AFT/NEA Conference on Teacher Quality in a symposium entitled, “How Can We Ensure a Caring, Competent, Qualified Teacher for Every Child?”

In this delivery she focused not only on recruiting good candidates to become teachers, but she outlined ten items designed to attract, train, and keep those good candidates in the pool of talented people who show promise of becoming good pedagogists.

These ten recommendations apply to both the states and local education authorities.

Now, while I do not believe that every one of her recommendations qualifies as “gospel” in the quest to ensure quality education through employing quality teachers, some of her points have significant merit.

Hammond’s list covers the gamut of procedures including better salaries across the board, requiring higher standards for teacher certification, establishing a reciprocal standard process among the states, and beginning to rely upon the National Board Certification program with more authority.

With respect to the National Board Certification program it appears that some agencies somewhere are getting serious about standards for teachers, which have far-reaching implications and impacts. It is, at the very least, a beginning in the establishment of some foundation for a national philosophy of education.

At the same time, it can alleviate teacher shortage issues. Some teacher candidates in, let us say, Florida, can earn National Board Certification and that certification will allow them to gain certification in another state, such as Minnesota, without the usual maze of paperwork and redundant processes now extant in individual states for new teacher candidates.

The implementation of this procedure alone would allow states, which have shortages of qualified teachers, to attract teachers from states, which have overages in their teacher candidate pools.

The quality of the teacher candidate will have already been established via the National Board Certification process and this would be acknowledged by the receiving state.

Still, how we attract, train, and keep quality teachers and pedagogists is the single-most important task facing individual education authorities at every level.

The acknowledgement of the importance of the teacher in the classroom is of such magnitude that it cannot be denied.

The pedagogists, as teacher-practitioner is the most important person in the classroom.

Without a well-qualified, dedicated, well-paid person in this position, all the theories being marched out of our colleges of education, all the qualifying tests for teachers, all the administrative pronouncements, and all the strictures imposed by state and/or local boards of education designed to “guarantee” quality education melt like snow on Miami Beach.

It is the quality of the teacher that indexes the quality of education in the classroom, and as we begin Academic Year 2005-2006, I think we can be thankful here in Demopolis that our cadre of teachers continues to ensure quality education for our youngsters.

Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at aogden@ascc.edu.