Pass or Fail: Mentoring Paired with Strong Teacher Qualifications

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

Answering the call to teach is a start – but there is so much more that goes into becoming an effective educator. Without better teaching education, certification, and specialty standards, we will never be able to rise above the current pass/fail system that dominates our public schools.

Case in point: Josie felt called to teach. She had worked with children supervising museum visits and had enjoyed that experience so much she decided to become a teacher. After getting her master’s in education, she completed two years of field work and felt prepared to teach. Like many beginning teachers, Josie experienced difficulties in her first year of teaching.

She was working long hours – spending more than twelve hours a day at school, which didn’t include the hours of preparation – and began to get stressed out. She comments: “I was unfamiliar with the resources available to me and how to access them. The teacher who had my classroom before me left behind a wealth of books, guides, and programs, but the amount was overwhelming, and I had little direction. Instead, I planned everything from scratch. Everything I did was homemade, the night before.”

As she worked around the clock, including on weekends, she wondered if she could continue to do the job. She remembered that fully half of new teachers quit before they complete five years of teaching, and wondered if she would be among them. Eventually, Josie used a search engine to seek help and discovered a resource called the New Teacher Center. She hooked up with a mentor, who advised her to keep one day of each weekend free. The mentor met with her weekly, and they worked together on ways to structure her days and allow student work to guide her instruction.

“Because of my mentor,” Josie says, “I have been able to feel a sense of control, which has allowed my creativity to flourish. I know where to plug in great ideas, and I can come up with engaging ways to teach, now that I have a better sense of what to be teaching! I have someone to go to for guidance. I don’t feel alone anymore.”

Josie’s story indicates that anyone in a support role for children in the public education setting should have an appropriate academic background and appropriate practical training to fulfill their job description. Their qualifications and training should align to their job experience. Individuals working as reading specialists must have the academic knowledge and specific training in literacy.

Anyone serving in the capacity of a special educator should have a similar level of knowledge and training in their area. School counselors, too, should have a standard of knowledge and training and be able to demonstrate a practical readiness to problem-solve and apply support solutions specifically to individual students, rather than relying on cookie-cutter models. And mentors can be enormously influential for teachers at the beginnings of their careers.

Of course, it is the school districts and the schools themselves that must ultimately enforce these standards in their hiring practices. The benefits of doing so are clearly immense, potentially reducing retention and social promotion, for starters, and ultimately producing better-educated, well-rounded graduates of the public education system.


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