- Quality teaching is a critical component to student progress.
- There are concerns about teacher quality in NC.
- NC can take action to contribute to a higher quality teaching force.
By Rebecca Fagge
My elementary years were spent at a rural school in Tuxedo, NC. Built in the 1920s, it was the same school that my father and his siblings attended. I remember using textbooks with my aunts’ and uncles’ names in them. We had no fancy equipment…just pencils, paper, and chalkboards. The only technology we had was the reel-to-reel movie projector and the hand-cranked duplication machine (I loved the smell of purple worksheets).
I tell you about my childhood school because, despite its significant financial limitations, it produced a major general in the Marine Corps, an Oprah Book Club writer, an international storyteller, and the usual assortment of doctors, lawyers, teachers, and generally hard-working Americans. A rural mountain school did this without tons of money.
It is possible to see the same results in the lives of graduates of today’s inner-city schools, and, similar to that rural mountain school, it doesn’t require a ton of money. What is the secret for successful educational outcomes? Quite simply, it is the influence of quality teachers.
The golden thread that runs through all educational research is the assertion that positive student outcomes are directly tied to accomplished teaching. Everyone knows this, but we continue to throw money at a myriad of other educational initiatives. I have long been concerned about a growing lack of quality in the teaching profession. Like every other profession, there are both good and bad practitioners. This fact should not be interpreted as a criticism of all teachers, of course. However, we can never improve the teaching profession until we recognize this reality.
What do I mean? Teacher quality in North Carolina is becoming questionable within the ranks of newly-graduated teachers, lateral entry educators, and the long-enduring (and often long endured) veteran teaching force. Many new hires have graduated both high school and college with what might be characterized today as a minimal education; poor spelling and grammar, limited historical knowledge and context, and a disturbing lack of basic content knowledge. Some new teachers have technological knowledge and yet have no idea how to teach real concepts if the power happens to go out.
Lateral entry educators are hired from other professions to fill difficult to staff positions in areas such as math or science. They are certified to teach when they take a minimal number of course hours. The most concerning group in this category however includes the colleagues that all current teachers recognize. They are the ones who do the minimum amount of work and complain constantly. Administrators seem loathe to address their various shortcomings and colleagues end up carrying their weight.
How can we solve this problem? Admission standards need to be raised for teacher candidates and the quality of teacher preparation courses in the UNC system must be upgraded. Applicants to colleges of education should be able to demonstrate an academic commitment to their undergraduate core courses, but all universities do not currently expect them to demonstrate a 3.0 GPA. Most college level work for teacher candidates is heavy on disjointed theory and very light on theoretical applications in real classrooms. I’ve heard from some teacher candidates that say many of their courses are online. Reducing our teacher preparation to a correspondence course is troubling. Since tax dollars go to support the UNC system, it is reasonable that citizens should be able to expect quality and a minimal amount of standardization in the prescribed coursework. There is enough research available to help guide the adoption of a standard of basics.
For those new hires who may be entering as lateral entry or even as an experienced teacher from another state, NC’s certification requirements need to be updated. There are quality educators who moved to NC and give up trying to get work teaching because of the arduous and lengthy certification process. We also need to apply stricter standards to the performance of current teachers, especially early in their work years. Despite concerns about the overall quality of the potential teacher talent pool, there are always excellent candidates. We need to make sure that the quality candidates in each area have a fair and fast track to practicing their craft for the benefit of all our students.
Numerous studies demonstrate a link between quality teachers — defined here as effective teachers — and future income potential. Seeing such outcomes can go a long way toward building the case why North Carolina needs a superior teaching force.
The Oprah Book Club writer who attended the same country school that I did has credited some of his early teachers with the inspiration and basic skills necessary to begin his lifetime pursuits. I believe North Carolina has an opportunity to provide this for every student, when we use the research and resources at our disposal to promote consistent, high-quality teaching.
Becky Fagge is a Civitas contributor and a former teacher with the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools. She is now retired and lives with her husband, Larry, in High Point, North Carolina.