NCTAF Newsletter Feature

Opinion: Changing Education

-Chicago Tribune; February 2, 2009

It seemed so right. Leslie Lewin, who since 6th grade had a passion to teach, was confident she could instruct and inspire her middle school charges. After all, she would be working in the very building that hosted her affirming experience as a student teacher. But a year later Lewin was doing math in a bank, not a classroom. From Day 1, she groped for a comfort level. She felt overwhelmed, even panicky, as she struggled with discipline problems and other issues. The woman who had been an awesome role model and tutor during her student-teaching semester offered advice. So did Lewin’s mother, a former teacher and Carbondale school superintendent. But it was not enough, not like having them there, regularly watching her in action. The passion fizzled, the panic prevailed and Lewin became part of a dropout rate that has stirred significant action in Illinois after long neglect. Studies by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future indicate nearly half of new teachers depart within five years. “In a vicious cycle, teacher turnover lowers student achievement, and lower student achievement leads to teacher turnover,” the commission concluded.

We lose young men and women who choose the profession knowing they likely will not drive BMWs. They expect fulfillment to trump frustration and successes to salve setbacks. Education experts are convinced a substantial majority exit because of scant support. We squander this human capital. We devalue our investment in undergraduate education by shortchanging professional development. Without proper preparation, we too often place them in classrooms with students from neighborhoods and households unlike those in which they were reared—damaging both teachers and students. Illinois clearly lacks a comprehensive approach. Among major elements, education experts say, there should be: Teacher mentoring programs that embody the best practices and are assessed for effectiveness; Sufficient time during the school day for the veteran and the newcomer to interact; Buy-in from principals, other school administrators and school boards based on studies that indicate well-executed mentoring enhances faculty stability, boosts student reading scores and costs less than turnover.

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