When the effectiveness of teachers and public schools is questioned, a response could easily be this:
What, exactly, do people expect to see if they were in a classroom, or in a school?
I recently had the opportunity to participate in Fort Wayne Community Schools’ “Principal for a Day” program, now in its 19th year. During that visit, I shadowed Principal Robin Peterman of Forest Park Elementary, observing multiple classrooms and teachers in action.
What I saw was eye-opening. Not surprising, because in covering education issues, I have repeatedly been informed that education and teaching have changed. But seeing it in action was something else entirely.
The nature of instruction
The most obvious change in today’s classrooms is the nature of instruction itself.
Gone are the days of a teacher lecturing to a class for extended periods while some students pay attention, some students fidget and take sporadic notes, while others pay little attention.
In today’s classrooms, teachers are expected to deliver information at a high tempo, calling on various students to display what they’ve learned, engaging with them to assess how well they are learning the information they have been presented.
“It’s not about how beautiful a job you did in presenting (as a teacher),” said Robin Peterman, the principal at Forest Park Elementary, a school with around 640 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
In numerous classrooms at Forest Park, for example, teachers ensured students were paying attention by asking questions almost non-stop after teaching a concept.
For younger students, that might mean answering in unison. For older students, that might mean leaving their seats and solving problems in front of the class.
But no matter the age, teachers in this era of education are expected to have students who are engaged and learning, to the best of their ability.
“The teachers use every minute of every day,” Krista Stockman, the public information officer for FWCS, said. “They plan, and those plans are evaluated. There are benchmarks that are used. It used to be that, as long as you presented the information, you were doing your job. It’s not like that anymore.”
Progress and remediation
Another change: reliance on individual data for instruction and near-immediate remediation.
At Forest Park, for example, one room in the school is dedicated to showing, at one glance, where a student has tested in disciplines like mathematics and language arts, what progress has been made, what remediation is being taken to improve performance.
Then, in the classroom, teachers continue that focus, keeping tabs on students with checklists on where the teacher feels the student is and how well they grasp a particular subject.
Finally, there is teacher accountability.
Peterman explained at length how her job as principal isn’t just to be a manager of staff, but instead to be a leader of instruction.
She attempts to visit each classroom daily, explaining that is the only way to write a fair evaluation of a teacher – by observing them over time, confirming what they did well, or asking questions and helping to strengthen weaker areas.
“The question everyone has to answer is this: Are you adapting to the needs of students?” Peterman said.
Again: There is no silver bullet in education. Some students will do better than others. That hasn’t changed over time.
But many things have, with the same goal of educating as many students as possible to the highest degree possible.