Just in time for "Teacher Appreciation Week," Education Secretary Arne Duncan published an "Open Letter to America's Teachers."
After reading his letter, here's the response I posted in EdWeek's comments:
The biggest problem in education -- all around -- and the one that is keeping teachers from doing the best they can is one that very few people are willing to address: the high percentage of teaching time that is lost due to disruptive, unruly, undisciplined students.
Classically, the "solution" is to insist that teachers have better classroom management skills, but that overlooks the other 1/2 of that equation: our students need to have the skills and character/emotional development that allows them to be "managed" in a classroom environment.
When teachers, all across the country, are losing between 25-50% or more of classroom time managing behavior -- not to mention other "related" problems such as bullying, teacher assaults, etc., it's no wonder they can't get the job done. Oh, and it also results in a $100 BILLION drain on the education budget nationwide, EVERY YEAR.
Recently, EducationWeek and others published the results of a study that showed broad-spectrum social skills education in the classroom resulted in an 11 percentile point gain in academic achievement, as well as other benefits like decreased discipline problems. Yet, instead of focusing on this aspect of education, we scream that we need to better prepare our students by giving them more technology? Heck, even the best technology will be useless if students aren't attentive, respectful, and willing to participate in learning.
For more on this, I encourage you to visit http://socialsmarts.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/education-ills-connecting-the-dots/
Mr. Education Secretary, if you truly want to do something to transform our ailing education system, I welcome a 15-minute chat with you. This is not only good for teachers, it's good for our children and it's critical for our future.
Now, I doubt he'll take me up on it, but frankly, I'm tired of the teacher-bashing. Yes, ok, there are some really lousy teachers out there who are really only interested in getting tenure, making it retirement, and getting out. But, you can say the same thing for any other profession: bankers, government workers, scientists, web programmers...there's good and bad in all of them. But you have to believe that the majority of teachers want to do the best they can -- otherwise, why even BECOME a teacher? It's sure not for the salary, perks or the glory! If we want to improve the state of education, we have to really look at ALL the factors involved, together, and be honest and willing to say what works and what doesn't. Instead of the "quick fixes" we are always looking for, be willing to look under the hood and consider that there might be a better way. Sure as heck, what we've been doing for the past 40 years isn't it.
If you truly appreciate teachers, how about you make sure they have both the skills and the environment to do the job you expect them to do? Not only will your teachers, but your students -- who it's supposed to be all about -- will thank you.