Empowering teachers goes a long way to improving schools

August 30, 2011

Liz Bowie is to be acknowledged for her article about Dundalk High School ("Slow turnaround," Aug 28). It was quite extensive and also shows The Sun's commitment to education. While the article was primarily about Dundalk High School, much of the experience is applicable to the national issue.

Ms. Bowie stated, "The children came to school with more needs than ever before." This is a growing trend in American schools. Instead of programs that address our nation's high poverty and incarceration rates, the answer seems to be in the principal's desire to get "teachers who would ... be mentors for students who didn't get all they needed at home." Educators are being given the task and responsibility to provide for needs that well exceed the paradigm of teacher. As one teacher stated about a troubled student, "He really needed someone to hope that he was going to be in school. He needed someone to want him to do well."

This statement reflects a great deal about what is happening in public education. Many teachers wonder where the parental structure and support is, and what future do the students perceive? For many, teachers not only provide emotional support on a day to day basis, we also create a future as possibility. Some of our students come from a cycle of poverty, addiction and crime and do not view education as a means of escaping.

One teacher in the article reported that the students are more interested in having fun than learning, and one student even stated that he used "all kinds of profanity." The climate of many schools is not a business-like atmosphere. In fact, many students act in a manner that would not be acceptable in a shopping mall. Many teachers would agree that there is too much tolerance for anti-social and even criminal behavior in schools. Much of this is a result of federal laws requiring data on such incidents, and no school wants to be labeled as dangerous or discriminatory.

Students often do not see a relevance to education. I recall my own daughter who looked forward to and loved going to school. By the end of her elementary school experience, she no longer skipped down the sidewalk to the crossing guard.

As reported, Dundalk's principal left the details to the teachers and even said, "There is no formula for this." Much of the discussion of educational reform deliberately excludes teachers. There is a negative characterization of teachers prompting the fallacious need to hold teachers accountable, as if we were not already. There is also a formulaic approach to delineating a good school and an effective teacher. There is even an attempt to measure the added value of each teacher. Not only does this narrow the perspective of a teacher's value, it also diminishes the student to an inhuman product. Yet as this article clearly articulates, empowering teachers goes a long way toward improving our schools, and our value is immeasurable.

Edward Kitlowski

The writer is a teacher at Loch Raven High School.

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