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Look past numbers to see teachers’ value

In the June 25 Journal Gazette, Sen. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City, made several important observations about teacher education. After teaching at a northeast Indiana high school for 12 years and the past 10 years at Manchester University in the teacher education program, I would be remiss not to ask Banks and other Hoosiers to keep a few things in mind.

Indiana’s teachers do have an effect on their students. As a mother of two children and former classroom teacher, I have seen firsthand the influence teachers have on students.

The Manchester University Department of Education – as well as teacher education programs across the nation – can have an effect on what happens in the preschool through 12th grade classrooms.

As a state and as a nation, we must have high expectations for our classroom teachers and administrators. Some of the proposals and current state laws, however, seem problematic for teacher educator programs.

I appreciate Banks’ interest in education, and I embrace the dialogue. It is important that parents, community members and educators have these conversations. The proposed Senate Enrolled Act 409 helps that conversation. But simply charting retention/completion rates, average scores on licensure tests and percentages of graduates obtaining teaching positions does little to ensure excellent teachers. That easily obtained data does not identify the effect our teacher education graduates have on their students during the three or four decades of their careers.

Furthermore, over the past four years, the State of Indiana has drastically changed teacher licensure laws. Many citizens do not realize that it is now possible for people to take a test that can grant a teaching license, even for those with little or no teacher preparation at all. Licensed teachers now can add areas to their licenses completely outside the content of their original college degrees simply by passing the test. This culture of teacher licensure for those with no teacher preparation at all defies Banks’ proposal to hold teacher education programs accountable.

As chair of the Department of Education at Manchester University, I believe in the preparation of the teachers who obtain their degrees from our institution. At the same time, I acknowledge that every profession has problems, and teaching is no different in part because measures of effectiveness are slippery.

It is, however, crucial to the future of Indiana’s economic strength that we have the best teachers teaching our children. Allowing a lenient licensure process does not improve teaching.

While the conversation continues, Manchester’s teacher educator program will continue to partner closely with schools to support classroom teachers while giving our students significant teaching experience. We will continue to hold our education majors accountable for their knowledge and their practice by asking them to demonstrate their effect on student learning and evaluating student teachers with the RISE teacher evaluation tool.

The solution to improving the quality of teachers extends far beyond Banks’ proposal, and we hope to continue that conversation.

Heather Schilling is chair of the Department of Education at Manchester University. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.