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Dedicated to Teachers

Heinemann Author Q & A Series: Sonia Nieto, Part 2

In part 1, Sonia shared some advice on how to inspire and motivate teachers to find joy in teaching students of diverse backgrounds. In today’s post, Sonia suggests some wider-ranging changes in education.

You write, “It is time we recognize that some of the most consequential aspects of teaching cannot be measured in the same old ways we’re used to and look for more genuine ways of evaluating what teachers do every day.” Can you recommend some more genuine approaches to evaluation?

Teachers can and should be evaluated, of course, because we need excellent teachers who teach rich content using interesting and innovative pedagogy. But focusing on students’ test scores is not the way to go about it. Creative ways of evaluating teachers include perusing student exhibitions, performances, and projects. Student portfolios, although time-consuming, are well worth the effort, and examining them can tell us a lot about teachers’ effectiveness. Observing teachers learn together as peers is another more positive assessment.

You eloquently wrote, “There are many caring and committed teachers in our nation’s schools but they are often invisible. It is to our detriment as a society for them to remain so. Having highlighted these teachers’ stories, their hopes, and their experiences, I hope that others—teachers, administrators, families, policymakers, the general public—will see the tremendous difference teachers can make in the education and future of our children, particularly if they are given the chance to do so unencumbered by rigid accountability schemes that rob teachers of their creativity and joy.” How can administrators, schools, districts, and communities make these teachers visible? 

The rampant de-professionalization of teachers over the past couple of decades has had a detrimental effect on teachers’ ability to use their training, creativity, and intelligence. Too many teachers are leaving the profession; others are tired and burned out. Administrators, schools, districts, and communities can make teachers visible by giving them some of the autonomy they’ve lost over the years of the so-called reform movement: provide meaningful professional development; make it possible for teachers to attend conferences; turn over some of the power to make curricular and pedagogical decisions; and do everything they can to reduce the pressures associated with high-stakes testing.

If you were the U.S. Secretary of Education, how would you steer the course of education in America?

I would stop privatizing public education. I would no longer grant charters and greatly reduce the number of current charter schools, retaining only those that have been successful with our most vulnerable students. I would make sure that no public monies or vouchers were used to support church-related charter schools. I would also stop supporting organizations such as Teach for America, which shortchange teacher education, and instead fund excellent teacher educations programs in colleges and universities. Most important, I would discontinue high-stakes tests; they are destroying the fabric of public education by creating a climate of teaching to the test. I would focus on supporting community schools that provide the kinds of services that help offset the detrimental effects of poverty: counseling services for children and families, health and medical services, housing information and support, and so on. I would also join with teachers, administrators, academics, students, advocacy organizations, and the general public to create schools that students love attending. Given the constant pressure on both students and teachers to “perform” rather than teach and learn, schools like these are becoming increasingly harder to find.

Read a sample chapter of Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds: Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Practices in U.S. Classrooms here.

Topics: Education, Teaching-General, Elementary, Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgr, High School, Middle School, Sonia Nieto

Date Published: 04/15/14

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