Pass or Fail: Teacher Training Impacts Student Success

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?

What’s the true value of teachers? What are they worth to the education system and what we should be doing to make the most of their skills and time?

The relationship between teacher expertise and student success is vital to the success of this generation of students, and the next.

So, how do we go about creating qualified and competent teachers?

Teachers are usually the stakeholders we hold accountable for transferring standards, knowledge, and skills to our students. And whether or not this accountability is fair, if teachers themselves are not adept at the transfer of knowledge and skills then it hardly matters what sort of standards or curriculum an education system has developed.

We assume that teachers play a role in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of individual students. Part of being an effective teacher is having some insight into students – when they are excelling or likely to excel, when they are likely to need help, what sort of help they are going to need, and how they can make the most out of their natural abilities.

In our discussion of retention and social promotion so far, we noted that teachers play a part in deciding whether to retain struggling students or promote them. Teacher assessment is another of the core elements in this decision. Not only do teachers decide how to support students needing help, provide the support, and assess the student in their progress; teacher assessments also tend to make up a big part of the overall assessment process when it comes to retention decisions.

A lot depends on teacher quality. If teachers are not appropriately qualified and trained to meet these expectations and handle this responsibility, what is the price we end up paying? What is the consequence of this structuring?

The simple reality is this: not all teachers entering the classroom, whether at the elementary or secondary level, have adequate training and experience to meet raised expectations for student learning. Although effective teachers are the best defense against retention and social promotion, because they can make up for much of what individual students might lack in natural ability or capacity for knowledge or skills development, we have to be clear about what teachers need to do in the classroom. We have to establish all of our expectations, not just the ones that have the weight of officialdom.

A strong teacher, at the end of the day, is an invaluable classroom tool, although the education system has yet to define what constitutes a strong teacher. Certainly, we have yet to figure out exactly how to produce strong teachers with any degree of consistency.

The challenge is to think about the qualification standards for teachers – what should they be able to demonstrate regarding academic training, professional training, and professional experience? We also have to consider what it is that constitutes teacher competency – what practices should a teacher be able to implement in a classroom setting? What models for teaching should they be able to use? Considering these and related questions about quality teaching, we can then begin to identify the nature and causes of problems that are undermining teacher quality.

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