Opinion

Opinion

Teachers are a key part of economic recovery

October 20, 2009

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Teaching is very hard work, but many people are very good at it.

Seth Mitchell likes kids and wants to help them find their way in an ever-changing and complex society. He is a teacher of English at Lisbon High School in Maine, population 9,077.

He believes in the use of technology in his classroom, and as a tech liaison with the National Writing Project he focuses on integrating technology into the teaching of writing.

What he is trying to do is find meaningful ways to include technology in instruction and assessment and enhance student achievement. He sees it as the wave of the future.

Mitchell believes he would benefit appreciably by having more interchange with other teachers and that such an exchange would heighten teaching approaches and skills. The teacher from Maine believes he speaks for many of his colleagues.

He was one of several teachers chosen from across the country to be profiled in a new report by the College Board and Phi Delta Kappa International, “Teachers Are the Center of Education: Profiles of Eight Teachers.”

Sheryl Fontaine finds teaching chemistry “a lot harder than I thought it would be.” But she also finds it “more rewarding than I expected it to be.” She is a teacher at Reed High School, in Sparks, Nev.

She answers questions from her students with questions of her own, rarely providing a direct answer but supplying valuable clues. She offers new teachers one bit of advice: “If you don’t have fun in this job, then you shouldn’t be here because it’s hard.”

A unique perspective was offered by Bill Jeter, a visual arts teacher from Golden Valley, Minn. “Art brings humanity to things … it’s the closest we get to magic.” He also points out what he believes people really value in education. “Look at where wealthy people send their children,” he said. “They don’t cut out arts and they don’t cut out sports and they don’t cut out languages.” Jeter has been in the classroom for 17 years.

Judy Ellsesser-Painter, an English language arts teacher from South Webster High School, in South Webster, Ohio, insists that “everyone teaches; everybody learns.” She further asserts that “kids can tell when teachers are putting heart and soul into what they’re doing.”

The daughter of an English teacher, Ellsesser-Painter did not set out to be in the classroom, but “to have people this involved in learning and education, this is the way you need to live your life: always involved in discovery.”

“You’re building a community in your classroom” Juliet Lee, mathematics teacher from South Bronx Preparatory, New York declared. She said, “I love seeing my students … getting to know them. They’re so open and curious … we learn from each other.”

Lee said that if she could make a recommendation for better teacher training, “it would be for them to spend more time in the classroom under another teacher.”

Cathleen Cadigan teaches history and government at Thomas Jefferson High School, Dallas. Some 94 percent of the students at her high school are Hispanic and 85 percent are eligible for free and reduced lunch. She worries about unequal distribution of resources. “I would love every kid in our building to have a computer like they do in the private school down the street.”

A veteran of 12 years, she recently dropped out as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas at Dallas because her days are “often endless at Thomas Jefferson.” She may go back some day.

Gloria Gonzalez regards the life of a teacher at Jones High School, in Orlando, Fla., to be “rich in experience.” As a faculty member in fine arts and art history, she cautions one “can’t (teach) just for the money. (There has to be) something inside of you, that you’re going to make a difference in these human beings.”

A Spanish teacher from Bellevue High School, in Bellevue, Wash., Steven Crawford thinks that “the folks who become teachers usually come in with a very clear heart.” He pointed out that “there’s just so much pressure on teachers … and it is relentless. I feel it is similar to delivering the mail. I do the best job I can possibly do. But I come back the next day and I have all this mail to deliver again.”

“Teachers stand at the center of the educational enterprise,” Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, said. “No one can fairly calculate their worth or collective value.”

But he and William J. Bushaw, executive director of Phi Delta Kappa International, believe great teachers change lives and they see this as an opportune time to better remind the public of the value of the teaching profession. This country is filled with great teachers and we need to provide them with the support they need.

They are encouraged by a receptive national administration on educational matters.

Clearly, there will be no lasting economic recovery without trained eye of teachers and the efforts of their students.

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