Taking advantage of teachers … in a good way

April 21, 2014

This semester, I’m learning a little more about what it takes to be a teacher. That’s because I’m teaching a class….on teaching. It involves preparing LaGrange College’s Education majors to learn all the social studies content they can.

And let me tell you, it’s not easy.

It’s not because I don’t know how to act in a classroom. At Florida State University, I took a class called “Teaching as a Performing Art.” At the end of the class, I was asked if I would like to teach the class. Thanks go out to Mr. Raul Guereca (“Mr. G”), my high school drama teacher, who made you go from fearing public speaking to relishing the opportunity to do it.

And it isn’t because I’ve been given a bunch of bad students. All of them would be a great teacher. I would be happy to have my kids learn from them.

But increasingly, getting to be a teacher involves preparing for the GACE exams, a series of high-stakes tests that you must pass. Colleges are even held accountable for how well students do in taking these. And that means memorizing large chunks of material for what has become known as “the Common Core.”

I’m not here to praise the Common Core, or bury it. But I am here to provide a different perspective on it. And it comes from Dalton Mayor David Pennington, a GOP gubernatorial candidate.

“I’m not opposed to standards,” Pennington told our education majors and political science students, along with a few faculty and staff who attended. “But I do care about who writes those standards.” He declared his opposition to the national government developing education policy.

Of course, those Common Core standards were negotiated with nearly every state providing input, one of the better aspects of those standards. But Pennington did explain why that might be problematic. “Before all of this, communities set the standards, and parents and teachers got involved in the process. Now, the education bureaucracy sets the standards.”

Pennington had high praise for teachers. “We wish our workforce was as well-educated as our teachers,” he said in his presentation. “So why aren’t we taking advantage of their skills and expertise to have a hand in coming up with the standards? Why aren’t we using them to help develop an education policy?”

The mayor of the Northwest Georgia town also expressed his disdain for “No Child Left Behind” Act. “Any time a bill has a fancy name that no one is supposed to oppose, like ‘No Child Left Behind,’ or ‘Affordable Care Act’ or ‘Patriot Act,’ run from it.” He sees NCLB as gutting public education, turning the process over to for-profit schools.

Pennington has some good points. He didn’t say our society has to be completely run by teachers. But we should find a way to give them some input on the education process, because many of them are a smart asset that can provide some ideas on how we can help our children succeed.