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Stop the teacher wars

Let’s quit pointing fingers at one another and focus instead on what we need to do to create better outcomes for children.

Teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s success in school.

Teachers are tired of the teacher bashing. Those who think we can do better for kids are tired of being dismissed as “corporate reformers.” Traditionally prepared educators resent the notion that their years of training are unimportant, while folks in alternative programs resent the accusation that they have entered teaching only to pad their résumés. One side says the issue of poverty is being ignored, while others say the lessons from high-performing schools are being dismissed.

Pam Costain
Pam Costain

It’s time to stop the teacher wars. Let’s quit pointing fingers at one another and focus instead on what we need to do to create better outcomes for children. Our students deserve nothing less than the end of the unproductive adult conversation and the beginning of a true dialogue on how to tackle our city’s opportunity and achievement gaps.

Let’s start with the facts. Teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s success in school. Great teaching matters, and without it our children cannot learn. Teaching is both an art and a science, and all truly great teachers change lives. The teaching profession does not get the respect it deserves, nor do K-12 educators receive wages commensurate with the value they provide. The current conversation leaves teachers feeling undervalued, underpaid and without a voice. It is time to honor teachers and recognize that no fundamental change is possible without both their input and commitment to improving their craft.

Because teachers are the No. 1 factor in a child’s success, we cannot back down on our insistence that high-quality teaching is essential. This is true everywhere, but especially in urban districts where the needs of the students are high and the stakes may literally be prison or prosperity. We have to demand excellence, because anything else will not be enough to alter the life trajectory of so many poor children of color.

The common ground

Between the need to repair how society treats its educators and the need for truly excellent teachers lies the common ground that will help improve our schools, our teachers’ performance and ultimately the lives of our children. So what is that common ground?

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Teachers should be recruited from among the best and the brightest. We need people in teaching who have demonstrated academic success, mastered their subject matter and are motivated to share their love of learning with others. Teaching should be a top profession of choice.

Teachers need excellent traditional and nontraditional training programs that prepare them to understand teaching and learning, to manage a classroom, to use data effectively and to function in a multicultural environment.

Teachers need to enter the profession knowing that they will be held to high standards, that their performance will be evaluated and that their goal is raising achievement for all.

Teachers need to hold themselves and their teams accountable for results. They must welcome feedback on how to improve, insist that others do the same and be willing to help those who cannot do the task to exit the profession. 

Teachers deserve time to plan, to analyze student data and to work together to improve outcomes. Their students also desperately need more time to master content, engage in creative projects, play, and even to eat lunch slowly.

Successful teachers need to have the mindset that all children can learn and excel regardless of their life circumstances.  This mindset does not deny the devastating effects of poverty, yet it refuses to accept poverty as a justification for school failure.

Teachers deserve schools with strong leadership, clear expectations, collaborative decision-making and respectThey should be treated as professionals and in turn behave as professionals.

Successful teachers deserve higher pay. Those who can improve achievement and who are willing to serve the highest-need students deserve even greater compensation.

Students deserve teachers who are both great educators and role models. They benefit from educators who look like them, speak their language, understand their culture and relate to their families. Make no mistake. Great teachers come in all colors, ages and years of experience, but building a diverse teacher corps is a must.

Finally, teachers and students deserve a strong and caring community that is willing to invest its time, talent and skills toward improving public education. We need the political will to confront racism, housing, health and employment disparities, and poorly resourced public schools, while never backing down on an expectation of excellence from our schools.

Focus on solutions, demand excellence

The mayor’s race is helping to focus our community on education. Both for the sake of our youth and the health and vitality of our city, Minneapolis must build nothing less than an outstanding public school system in which all children succeed regardless of race, income, language or ZIP code.

We can do this. It starts with admitting we have deep educational disparities, rolling up our sleeves, focusing on solutions and demanding excellence from everyone who touches children’s lives, including ourselves.

Pam Costain is the president and CEO of AchieveMpls.


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