Today I went to observe a colleague's ESL classroom to look at how "academic discourse" is used in our school. The experience got me thinking about the variables that impact a student's classroom education. I made a brief mental list of the things that contribute to a student's experience in the classroom: what the teacher says, materials presented (and order they're presented in), the behavior and studiousness of their peers, the physical setup of the classroom (desks, wall art, etc..) Then I started to wonder about who contributes to the quality of these factors. Who can we blame when an educational experience is subpar? Who can we credit when it's excellent?
Most of the factors I thought about are significantly impacted by the teacher and their methods. Classroom setup, the materials presented, what the teacher says, and even the behavior of the students are all directly affected by teacher behavior.
And so, on the surface, it seems that the media are correct when they suggest that the teacher is the most significant influence on quality of education experienced by students. Of course, if you have any significant experience working in or around classrooms, you know that's not the entire story.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the relatively poor quality of education I'm offering to my students. I have, unfortunately, not been meeting all the needs of all my students. A number of my students receive instruction in my classroom that is not on their level. Of course, I do my best to meet their needs. I attempt to differentiate my instruction. I employ students who understand the material to help those who do not. But it's not enough.
Were my students to be offered a truly excellent education, I'd need more time to think about my curriculum and conference with colleagues about creating a comprehensive learning plan for my students in both the content area I teach and within the grade-level. I'd need a few teachers aids in each class supporting the work of students who are easily distracted. I would need the time to conference with each of my students and their families on a regular basis about their performance in the classroom. I, and other new teachers to the school and district, would need additional time at the beginning of the year to meet with experienced staff members to talk about school culture, procedures, and curriculum. Even better, teachers would be paid to do work over the summer.
My behavior strongly impacts the quality of education received by my students. But even as an experienced educator, my behavior is strongly impacted by supports offered me by the district and requirements imposed on me by lawmakers thousands of miles from my classroom.