We all had that one, great, teacher. The one that dressed up in a costume and played with, making us laugh as we learned. Or the one who gave us a stern talking to because he or she knew we could do better. We respected and loved them.
Walk in on the last day of school, a half-day when you’d expect kids to be bouncing off the walls, and you see every kid bright-eyed, eager to play a math game. Yes. On the last day. She is the kind of teacher that every parent wants, that every kid will remember. She is calm. She is in control. She is curious. She has this light in her eyes, this eagerness to learn, nothing you can measure or package, but there it is radiating from her, igniting the curiosity and creativity of her students.
In the past 12 years, as a children’s book author, I have seen more than 2,000 teachers at work. I have been in small and large, rural and inner-city, public and private classrooms from tiny Dover, N.H., to sprawling Phoenix. Schools bring me in for classroom workshops and all-school assemblies in which I share my passion and my process for brainstorming, writing, and revising.
Through these visits, and because of my own background in education and education reporting, I have learned to recognize a great teacher like Mrs. Obstgarten—and it breaks my heart to think that this year she’ll be sitting in Common Core State Standards training sessions along with thousands of other teachers across the country.
The common-core standards have been adopted by all but four states and are coming to classrooms across the nation. Today, specialists are developing new curricula and tests to meet those standards and training teachers to use them. Our educational system will spend time, effort, and money in the belief that implementing the common standards will improve teaching and learning.
“Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core,” a recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, estimates the total cost of implementation between $3 billion and $12.1 billion, depending on which approaches states use.
Yet, as someone who has visited hundreds of schools around the country, here’s the reality as I see it: New standards, tests, and training won’t necessarily deliver results. What guarantees great teaching and learning is a great teacher.
Great teachers are out there: the Ms. Ray who rushes up to show me the newspaper her 6th graders are writing, the Ms. Levenson who has emailed me ahead of my visit to find out how she can prepare her 4th graders, the Mr. Truman who sits in a student desk and raises his hand during the Q-and-A because he has a burning question, the Mrs. Winters who sent me stories her 2nd graders wrote immediately after my presentation.
I’m buoyed by these amazing teachers, but I am also dismayed by how many teachers are disengaged—no preparation before my visit, no light in their eyes while I’m there, no follow-up after I’m gone. To a disengaged teacher, I’m just a line on the day’s calendar, and the students know it. To an engaged teacher, I’m an opportunity. I say this not to pat myself on the back; I say this because a great teacher will use every opportunity he or she has.