To the Editor:
Thomas Hatch’s Commentary “Four Flawed Assumptions of School Reform” (Dec. 9, 2009), which challenged commonly held beliefs that policymakers often use to help guide schools, was well done. His recommendations for improving our education system, however, failed to include the importance of highly skilled and motivated teachers, an essential element in the opinion of many education researchers and this writer’s own experience.
Having observed and evaluated thousands of teachers over my 42-year career in education, I can attest to the fact that no other factor outweighs the influence that a teacher can have on student achievement. I have worked in school districts that had poor facilities and limited resources and watched as creative teachers overcame those barriers with skill, passion, and resourcefulness.
Early in my career, I taught at the elementary and middle school levels for seven years prior to becoming a school administrator. At that time, I perceived myself as being a very good teacher. Yet spending the vast majority of the ensuing years as an administrator and observing some master teachers has given me the insight that my own teaching skills were lacking. Seeing a master teacher work with students is like watching a conductor direct musicians.
Mr. Hatch missed this essential element for reforming education. Attract talented, passionate, creative, hardworking teachers and create an environment that allows them to challenge their students to reach their learning potential. Give teachers respect and show them that they are appreciated and valued. Create a climate that allows them to hone their skills and supports their failures as well as their successes. Great teachers are the essential underpinning of school reform.
Policymaking for education has been relegated to people outside the field, many of whom lack the firsthand experience, knowledge, and ability to provide direction to the highly complex task of educating a child.
James M. Sheerin
A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘Flawed Assumptions’ and Skilled, Creative Teachers