by Connie Rath, Dean, Gallup Education
Four key findings from the 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll reveal what Americans think about the nation’s teachers and the system for evaluating them:
- Three of four Americans say they have trust and confidence in the men and women who teach in the public schools, for the third year in a row.
- More than 40% of Americans describe the teacher who had the most influence in their lives with words such as caring, compassionate, motivating, and inspiring, while just 17% use words like intelligent, knowledgeable, persistent, hard-working, and demanding.
- Americans are divided on whether states should require teacher evaluations to include how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests.
- Americans support more rigorous entrance requirements into college-based teacher preparation programs.
We need to flip priorities in education. We need to focus on hiring and developing caring, passionate teachers who help students see their future instead of putting teachers in classrooms just to achieve certain test score outcomes.
Start by identifying at an early age the people with the caring capacity to teach. Set up these innately talented individuals for success by giving them opportunities to mentor and tutor younger students. Let these potential teachers test their effectiveness by the changes they see in the students they mentor -- an increase in their math skills or an improvement in their problem-solving or social skills. And encourage them to go to a college of education that provides more practice and feedback before they enter the workforce.
Then, schools need to hire and develop caring educators -- and broaden how they evaluate these teachers. Schools should include measures that credit student progress in a career interest, a subject specialization, or attainment of their personal goals, in addition to academic gains.
The common evaluation factor should be student growth. No teacher can be judged to be effective without evidence of student growth and performance. Americans may come to agree that standardized tests are a way to know how well a child, a school, and a nation compare. But they want to know first that the children they care about have other caring adults who know them well and help them get better at something -- or many things -- every day. A great caring teacher will always have a long list of students he or she helped along the way, each of whom will have numerous success stories associated with them.
Getting more great teachers in place will take three key strategies:
- Support the teachers we admire. Recognize them for their contribution. Evaluate them by a variety of student successes -- beyond just test scores.
- Identify teaching talent early. Select first for caring talent and provide significant experience to boost skills and potential impact.
- Take students’ views into account. Score each school on not just the academic gains it makes, but also on students’ perceptions of their readiness for the future.