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View Diary: A Response to TeacherKen and Dailykos Community (357 comments)

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  •  Very Interesing Reading (none)
    I appreciate the response to my comments. Obviously, people are informed and passionate about the future of our children. I could not agree more that other than engaged parents the single most important factor in the educational success of a child is a quality teacher. When Thomas Friedman came in July to Des Moines to address the nation's governors he ended his presentation with the answer to the question we all posed. We asked what can be done about the flat world. How do we compete? He answered we need children who are creative and excited about learning and for that we need teachers who are creative and excited about teaching.

    There needs to be a national effort to attract and retain quality teachers. It starts with valuing the profession and expressing respect for those who teach. It must continue with efforts to compensate teachers at levels that will attract bright and innovative young people. It must include an effort to make the atmosphere better suited to learning. It really requires an all out effort.

    In Iowa we are looking for more ways to accomplish all of that and more. Most recently we began exploring ways we can help those who go into the teaching profession with more help on their student loans. We have to continue to invest more in an effort to improve our salaries.

    But, states need a fully engaged federal partner. I am afraid with the recent discussion in Congress that rather than invest more in our priorities we are going to see cuts in some budget areas that should not be cut in order to pay for hurricane relief. I appreciate the need to be fiscally responsible. But I would start with cutting out some of the subsidies for industries that find themselves with record profits (the oil industry for example) and tax cuts for the top 1% income bracket as starters before education and health care cuts are proposed.

    •  What every state needs is to take (none)
      the time to make a new curriculum based on the 21st Century instead of the 19th (see my post above), then teach it to teachers for 6 weeks one summer.  Teach them how to be better teachers at the same time.

      One Summer. Call it The Great Inservice.

      That will lift education up to a whole new level in each state as they do it.

      And it won't take away from the 180-day schedule.

      The teachers will agree if it is a one-time deal.

    •  Governor Vilsack, (none)
      I appreciate the time that you took to come here and engage in this conversation...however, I must admit to being a little disappointed if all you took away from this conversation was that we need good teachers who are well paid.  I think you'd find few from any point on the political spectrum who would disagree with you on those points...but to continue to sell these as a means to reform education is simplistic and quite frankly, condescending.  

      If we want to save public education, we have to deal with the big issues in education...we have to address the real problems.  In our city, thousands of children leave the public education system each year.  Talented educators are leaving.  Most of our schools are as segregated as they were before Brown.  We don't only have a two tiered system, we have a four or five tiered system.  In most parts of the country, funding is woefully inequitable...thus, those in most need of services are the least likely to get them.

      I understand we have to start somewhere, and the idea of having quality teachers is a popular one...but we haven't even agreed upon what constitutes a "quality teacher" yet nor have we even begun to address what an education should be.  Until we do this, those that can will continue to seek out and find what they are looking for and we will be hard pressed to get their continued support for a system that didn't meet their needs.  Needless to say, those without the ability to leave will be left behind...and there will be no one left to care.

    •  children who are creative and excited (none)
      about learning.   Keep that in focus, and use it as a lens to measure everything anyone proposes.   Will taking such a step add to the excitement of the children, will it enable them to unleash their own creativity?

      Can we recognize how varied our children are?  Can we have an educational system that does not insist on everyone doing the same thing at the same time, or the same age?  Can we apply what we know from psychology and physiology that children develop -  physically, emoitionally and intellectually  - at different rates?  That a child might be advanced in his mathematical understanding beyond his age while behind in his verbal and reading skills?   Does the way we treat him in school recognize this?

      I do not disagree that the Federal government has a role to play. That role should not be an imposition of what is effectively a one-size fits all approach, that values only scores on what are effectively somewhat low-level tests, with such tests becoming the driving force in our schools and our education.

      I appreciate the time you have put into this effort.  As my posts at have made clear, I Ivalue my chance to dialog.  I found it worthwhile enough to want to broadcast it to a wider audience, such as that here at dailykos.   I strongly thank you for your willingness to come here and engage in dialog.  I hope you have found the time and energy expended worth the effort.

      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sun Oct 09, 2005 at 02:12:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Anathema? (none)
        First, I have to admit failure in my attempt to read this whole thread and for that I'm sorry, as I'm sure I've missed great, cogent information.

        I'm sure some other teachers will hardly favor the implications of my comment, but I am always at a loss to explain why we cannot educate our pupils at least as well as those in many European countries.

        National standards work fine there. Why can they not work here? I'll answer part of my question in that the Feds won't pay for what they cannot control, and we value local control over everything, even at the expense of education standards. There must be more to this problem, though.

        I am certified to teach k-12 English, Phys. Ed (modern dance), and Social Studies, and am constantly mystified at the almost total lack of geography classes and mandatory foreign language for grammar and high school students in this country. P.E. is mandatory for Pete's sake, not that it can counteract hours in front of video games, but you get my drift. Why not foreign language k-12? Geography k-12?

        Lengthen classes and the class day. Increase student teaching durations. Keep class size as small as possible. Require hard classes of all students. Get sports out of the equation. Pay teachers more. (The last two are fantasies, I realize.)

        We could talk about European-style apprenticeship programs, too sometime.

        In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher. Dalai Lama

        by leolabeth on Sun Oct 09, 2005 at 05:36:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Language classes (none)
          We should be teaching the Pacific rim languages: Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Korean, but no, budget problems and all that.  Meanwhile my school district is looking for a Latin teacher.  Latin!
          •  I agree, Chinese should be available. (none)
            That said, I'm old school about Western Civilization and believe Greek and Latin really help us understand the way early Occidental philosophers' minds worked.

            Why study Occidental works first, as opposed to Oriental? No real reason other than our country's history, geography and demography, I suppose. We should be able to do both to some degree.

            Hell, any language is fine with me, but our school--I use that term loosely as I haven't taught there in a year--graduates at least a quarter of its seniors with no foreign language at all, and I think it compromises their English and geography skills, among others, to do so.

            In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher. Dalai Lama

            by leolabeth on Mon Oct 10, 2005 at 04:51:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I once sat on a committee judging (none)
              grant proposals.  One proposed teaching Swahili in a particular junior high as a pilot program to raise the self-esteem of blacks.  I took an informal poll of the African-Americans in my neighborhood.  Most were frankly offended and called it yet another misguided attempt by whites to fix black self esteem.  Nearly everyone felt that a solid education in English reading and composition would benefit their kids more.  Some pointed out that teaching Swahili was just another white generalization.  Africa has many languages, dialects, and cultures, so why focus on Swahili?  It is no more meaningful to their families than any other African culture, they said.  They also said there was no unified "black" culture.
              •  That's more or less my rationale for a strong... (none)
                Western Civ focus. It's lost much of its currency for both good and bad reasons, but it's still the nation's historic base and goodness knows we have to start somewhere.

                Keep in mind, Latin was the closest thing to an ancient history class I took until my last year of college. Turns out, Latin filled many gaps that otherwise might have been chasms in my education.

                In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher. Dalai Lama

                by leolabeth on Mon Oct 10, 2005 at 06:16:03 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  student loans (none)
      Way back in the day when I began college with the intent to become a teacher (1968)  Virginia had a loan program aimed specifically at recruiting teachers.  Room & board at a state school cost me just under $1,000 that first year.  My state-sponsored loan was $350--or slightly more than 1/3.  Each year's loan could be repaid in money with a level of interest I've forgotten or repaid by teaching one year in a Virginia public school.

      I thought it was an excellent program then and still do--although I don't think it exists any longer and have no idea why it was discontinued.

    •  Governor Vilsack, (none)
      My response got way too verbose. I posted it in a separate diary.

      Thanks for continuing the conversation--and please let me know when HeartlandPac will let me register so that I can continue the discussion over there!

      There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. --Benjamin Disraeli, cited by Mark Twain

      by sheba on Sun Oct 09, 2005 at 03:57:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  A GREAT teacher is a FREE teacher (none)
      Great teachers are indeed a huge part of a successful school system. But those thoughtful, hard-working, creative folk who would be great teachers often don't want to work in a public school.

      The proof is that teachers at private schools work longer hours (because they also coach and supervise dorms), get paid much less, and are generally happier about their jobs than public school teachers.

      When I taught at a boarding school in CT, I was earning less than half of what a starting teacher earned in the nearby public school system. I was an experienced teacher with a degree from one of the best schools in the country, and I chose to earn less because in that private school setting I was granted the freedom to teach the way I thought best - I was encouraged to design as much of my own curriculum as I wanted, and was basically treated as an asset rather than as a cog in some kind of educational machine.

      A public school teacher has 5 or 6 classes a day. I had 4. They have 30 students or more in a class. I typically had 12. Thus I ended every day having had a real chance to make a difference in EACH of my student's lives. Few public school teachers get the chance to feel that way. THAT is why they have to be paid twice as much.

      The best teachers are the ones who see teaching as a vocation - a calling of the same virtue and priority as some view the priesthood. These people will never be in education for the money (though it is critical that there be enough money in education so they can get by). They are in education to make a difference - and it is a depressing fact that so much of the structure of our public education system is built as if to defend against the possibility of that every happening.

      Which is not to say that our only hope is to throw out the system we've got - great improvements can be had simply by understanding what it takes for a school to unleash the greatness in all (or at least most) of their teachers - and that comes down to three things:

      1] MUCH more intimate class sizes - 18 should be a maximum
      2] Much more autonomy about each teacher "owning" their curriculum
      3] Encourage MORE contact between teachers and their students - sitting together at lunch, relationships as coach or advisor, etc. - enough to engage at a level of mentorship and mutual respect which inevitably generates a much stronger desire on the part of the student to excel, because now this teacher's expectations of them MATTER.

      "I Have Sworn Upon the Altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Thomas Jefferson

      by AikidoPilgrim on Sun Oct 09, 2005 at 09:13:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Vilsack, lend me your ear (none)
      Governor, I recommend to you The Courage To Teach by Parker Palmer.  If you read that book, you will come away understanding a very basic but profound truth.  What makes a good teacher is inherently internal, uncontrollable and mysterious.  Yes, we can pay more.  Yes, we can do better at training.  Yes, we can increase other incentives and reduce other negatives.  But, the sad fact is that great teachers are great, because they have an internal drive to become better, not because the system made them that way.

      And sadder than that, in most cases, what makes great teachers go into teaching in the first place was having a great teacher somewhere in their own life.  As we start to lose that mass of great teachers, there is a tipping point at which the system itself is not generating enough new exciting teachers to self-perpetuate itself.  At that point, Governor, we are all in for a fall.

      There are things that can be done:  de-emphasize standardized testing (it is driving off great teachers in droves), limit class sizes, increase the professionalism of the job, give teachers more responsibility, promote the arts, etc.  You can do all these things and they will help, but, at the end of the day, what makes me want to get up every morning and inspire young people is something personal to me that I can't give to another teacher in my department.

      The job is just too human-centered to lend itself easily to systemic solutions, IMHO.

      Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

      by Mi Corazon on Sun Oct 09, 2005 at 09:35:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  strongly agree with the recommendation (none)
        I have given the book to former students who want to be teachers, and it has had a profound impact upon them.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Mon Oct 10, 2005 at 03:06:29 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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