School Beat, June 10, 2010

This is not my father’s classroom teacher

Principal, East Rockford Middle School

Certainly, many baby boomers can remember the days at school when you could convince that certain teacher to spend nearly an entire class period talking about any topic of interest other than the subject matter. Go ahead and admit it—you had at least one or maybe two of these teachers.

My favorite was an eighth-grade history teacher who served on a Navy ship during WWII. He was a good citizen and great guy, but certainly his memory was questionable, as he prefaced his stories with, “Did I ever tell you about this time back in the Navy?”

Of course, being the budding leader that I was back in those days, I made sure all my classmates never admitted we had already heard him tell the story several times. We learned a lot about life on a Navy ship from a very caring and interesting educator, but we probably could not have been successful on a state social studies curriculum assessment similar to what is required of secondary students today.

Some 40 years later, I fondly remember the Navy stories with much more detail than, let’s say, the political causes of the Civil War. Although I have many wonderful memories of my eighth-grade history teacher, I’ve grown to realize that he would have struggled in today’s classroom.

Current classroom teachers, unlike my eighth-grade history teacher years ago, have many more responsibilities sitting on their teaching plate. We can start with the existence of state curriculum standards. In Michigan, just like most states, grade-level content standards exist for all core teaching areas. Teachers spend many hours working collaboratively with their colleagues to map their subject area curriculum, ensuring these content standards are present and taught. Often this is similar to throwing a dart at a moving target, as the state continues to change and modify these standards. Nevertheless, it is imperative that every teacher teach the standards, and we are mandated to give our students state assessments over these very standards. These state mandated assessments are given each year at identified grade levels and at identified times of the year. Since we have multiple buildings in our district that include many teachers teaching the same subject area, it is absolutely necessary that we are consistent with curriculum delivery. Thus, teachers have to pace their instruction to meet both curriculum content coverage and state assessment timelines.

In Rockford, as in many districts, we have high performance expectations for our students. The classroom teacher is expected to prepare students to not only be successful on state curriculum assessments, but also build their learning skills to successfully take on the challenges of the 21st century. Teachers must differentiate their instruction to meet the learning needs of each student. The time when the classroom teacher simply delivered content and a student simply learned it or not has passed. The teaching and learning process is more challenging and more complicated than what existed for my eighth-grade history teacher. Today’s teacher must be skillful at understanding brain research and align his or her teaching practices to maximize the learning capacities of each child.

It’s not uncommon in today’s classroom for a teacher to have many students on individual learning plans, some highly structured for gifted students and others with a modified curriculum to meet the needs of challenged learners. This challenge is combined with the expectations of our teachers to build positive connections with their students, motivate students to be excited about learning, instill positive lifelong character traits, manage student behavior, and build citizenship skills. I am amazed at how successful teachers are at creating and maintaining such healthy learning environments, considering the demands associated with their profession.

Recent trends in education and school accreditation models have the classroom teacher actively involved in data-driven decision-making regarding student achievement and curriculum design. Teachers must have a strong understanding of formative assessment construction and knowledge regarding existing or potential summative assessments to employ. Now more than ever, assessments are used to improve student learning and enhance classroom instruction.

In Rockford, teachers work in subject area or grade level teams to review and navigate through the results of multiple assessments to determine what actions need to be taken to ensure all students are successful. Teachers train in technology that helps them sort and analyze assessment data concerning individual students, groups of identified students, or all students in a school building. Most importantly, teachers use this data, in collaboration with colleagues, to make important decisions to immediately take action toward assisting a single student or groups of students. Student assessment has moved beyond just what’s posted in the teacher’s grade book. It demands that teachers now become more actively involved with taking a holistic approach toward determining individual student achievement.

In closing, I hope classroom teachers also find the time to share their life experiences with their students. Teaching and learning will always be enhanced through a good life story told by the teacher every now and then.

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The Squire has been Rockford’s free weekly newspaper since 1871. Our loyal readership includes over fifteen thousand homes in the Rockford area, including the affluent Lakes area of Lake Bella Vista, Bostwick Lake and Silver Lake; Belmont, Blythefield, as well as Algoma, Courtland, Cannon and Plainfield Townships. The Squire is distributed through the U.S. Post Office every Thursday. We also deliver to in-town businesses and homes with paper carriers and news stands in our grocery stores and over thirty local shops.