Teachers share their views on how to improve education

Beth Prince, a kindergarten teacher at Hearst Elementary School in Washington, D.C., said supportive leadership is much needed in schools and motivates teachers.

“It’s so important to involve teachers in the school processes and provide us with access to resources like professional development and collaboration. Also, give us a chance to work with the community and parents,” she said.

“One of the biggest challenges we hear from teachers is finding a good principal,” said Scholastic’s Mayer. “A good principal supports teachers; what professional in any setting wouldn’t want a supportive leader? Teachers needing supportive principals is no different that what any professional wanting to succeed wants.”

The survey also revealed that teachers aren’t opposed to standardized tests as one way to measure student performance. More than 80 percent of teachers said district-required tests are at least a somewhat important measure of student performance (84 percent).

Yet, these should be just one aspect of how students’ success is measured, they said Other measures of success should include formative assessments, performance on class assignments, and class participation along with standardized tests.

“Teachers do value standardized tests, but not as a stand-alone measurement,” said Vicki Phillips, director of education for College Ready at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Standardized tests need to be mixed in with daily and local assessments as well.”

Mayer said that while there must be accountability in the form of standardized testing, technology now makes it possible to capture student performance in real time, and this technology is needed to balance out single performance-based testing.

“We need more authentic testing for students, and technology makes that possible,” she said. “Students can take their time, not feel so pressured, and have testing tailored to them.”

Having tenure doesn’t make a good teacher, survey respondents said: Only 10 percent of teachers said tenure is a very accurate measure of teacher performance, while 42 percent said it’s not accurate. Student engagement and year-over-year progress of students are viewed as the most accurate indicators of teacher performance measures (60 percent and 55 percent, respectively, rated these as very accurate), but they are not frequently used to evaluate teachers.

Textbooks aren’t the answer, either, teachers say. Just 12 percent of teachers said traditional textbooks help improve student academic achievement, and a mere 6 percent said textbooks engage students in learning. Eighty-one percent of teachers said up-to-date, information-based technology is very important or absolutely essential to improve student achievement.

According to Fresno High School’s Dossetti, books are great and students can still enjoy them, but adding technological resources enhances the learning experience.

“For example, I have my students read a book, then ask them to go onto Ning and have a discussion about their reading when they get home,” she said. “Technology can really extend the day and make books and textbooks more interactive and engaging.”

“Not all textbooks are bad,” said Liss, “but there are certainly other options to engage students. The trick when using technology is not to lose focus of the learning objective. Sometimes you see teachers and students using this and that technology for a project and they get too caught up in the technical aspects; you can’t lose focus of what it is you’re really trying to get your students to learn.”

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