Across the Street: What’s a teacher to do?
When I went off to college to learn to be a teacher, the responsibility of an elementary school teacher was mostly teaching “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic,” the 3R’s. Social studies, science and physical education rounded out the curriculum.
Then, came monitoring the cafeteria, to accommodate students receiving free lunch, then free breakfast. Students, we determined, couldn’t learn if they were hungry. Now, we have decided there are many other demands on a teacher’s time that are “necessary” for students to learn, so we’ve expanded the “mission” of school.
Since I’ve been a member of the state board, I’ve visited with teachers, administrators, and taxpayers in the school districts I represent. I’ve found that we’ve come a long way from the “3 R’s.” For example, teachers are now required, in teacher prep programs, to take courses that enable them to teach non-English speaking students. Classes aren’t directed toward any specific language, but languages in general (HB14-1298). The students are called English language learners, or ELLs. If teachers are already in the classroom, they are required to take continuing education courses in ELL as they earn credits to maintain their teaching credential.
Another tough duty is dealing with special needs students. I recently visited with several special education teachers who specialize in autism. Some students are with their SPED teacher for part of the day and integrated into a general classroom the rest of the time. The SPED teachers told me it is essential that all classroom teachers take specific coursework in teaching and understanding students with autism. So far, this is not a requirement.
Teachers are also expected to incorporate “Social and Emotional” lessons into their classroom curriculum. Students are coming to school without skills usually learned at home, therefore teachers need to include social-emotional skills in classroom lessons. Teachers are also required to have an understanding of suicide prevention, depression, mental illness, and bullying. And then, there’s drug prevention, sex education, and “safe schools.” It’s understandable why school administrators continue to request more school counselors and health professionals to address these needs.
Another area in which teachers need ongoing professional development is in technology and its effective use in the classroom. On the flip side of technology, parents are becoming more concerned about too much “screen time” for their students, both in and out of school. Social skills and socialization may be compromised when too much time is spent on technology.
And, I almost forgot about testing. At our August meeting this week, we’ll receive test results from the Colorado Measurement of Academic Success and the SAT, used for college admission.
So much to teach in so little time.
On a positive note, with the economy doing better, the legislature was able to put 10 percent more money into the K-12 budget for next year. A grateful Western Slope superintendent we visited with said he was giving his teachers a raise. As the economy improves, the legislature sees the probability of additional money in the future.
I ask you, “What’s a teacher to do?” Only one word comes to mind: Recess!
Joyce Rankin represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District on the State Board of Education. She writes the monthly column, “Across the Street” to share with constituents in the 29 counties she represents. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is across the street from the Capitol. Rankin is also a legislative assistant for State Rep. Bob Rankin.
Time flies by and high school seniors wind down their time as graduation approaches. I’ve never encountered a graduate of our high school who doesn’t want their life to be better in some way, shape, or fashion. Things haven’t gotten any easier for young people who are surrounded daily by the pressures of an increasingly skill-specific economy and pressure-driven expectations for how their lives should be lived.