Power of Teachers
Dr. Lorraine Mccune
fall, after a twenty-year hiatus, I find myself again teaching
students who aspire to the teaching profession. I began my work
with these young people with some trepidation. The field of education
is faced with many challenges at present. Equity of instruction
across levels of poverty and wealth, minority and majority children
has not been achieved. Children with disabilities are now entitled
to education in the ordinary environment of their peers, but it
is the unusual school that manages this task sensibly, with optimum
outcomes for all children in the classroom. Children who are English
language learners, having a non-English native language, and their
families can hardly know what to expect, with bilingual education
now embraced, now rendered illegal, and all along variously defined.
Schools are more racially segregated than they were 20 years ago.
My personal experience with Whole School Reform, mandated for
districts of poverty in New Jersey, my home state, does not suggest
a hopeful outcome from these efforts. Rather than building on
the strengths of talented teachers, formulas from outside are
considered the route to success. Reports from my students, out
doing fieldwork, suggest that “reform” often takes the form of
rigidity, lack of freedom in learning, and “teaching to the test”.
It sometimes seems that in our era, test performance is more important
than the daily performance of interesting and challenging activities
in the classroom.
Despite all of this, teachers retain their power.
Administratively, I have told my students, teachers have little
power. Each school is governed by a principal. Each district has
a curriculum. Supervisors monitor implementation of the curriculum.
Lesson plans must be created and followed. Where teachers are
represented by a professional organization, an additional set
of rules is in place. Teachers are limited in their after school
initiatives by contractual agreements. It is too easy to see how
“voluntary” extra hours could be coerced, or could undermine the
rights of the group.
So where is the power that teachers retain?
Working with young people preparing to teach, reminds me that
it is the teacher alone who meets and engages the mind of the
student. The teacher in the “privacy” of his or her classroom
becomes the arbiter of knowledge and values. The very way that
students are addressed…The attention they are paid… The manner
in which the teacher expresses enthusiastic knowledge has the
power to transform and engage the students. What matters most
is what teachers and students do together. Teachers can create
a microcosm of learning through their own talents. A school day
is about 6 hours long. Multiply that over the years and the enormous
power of teachers is evident. Just by being there they have opportunities
to change the world.#
Dr. Lorraine McCune is a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate
School of Education and serves as advisor to educational toy company,
General Creation. She can be reached at www.generalcreation.com
in the “Ask Dr. McCune” section.
Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: email@example.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express
consent of the publisher. © 2002.