Quality teachers need quality support

October 13, 2001


The recent Chicago Sun-Times series on the quality of Illinois teachers is a
wake-up call. Nothing is more important to improving our schools than a
fully qualified, certified teaching force. If we as a society are sincere
about improving our public schools and committed to closing the achievement
gap between our more advantaged and less advantaged children, we must commit
ourselves to having a qualified, certified teacher for every child.

Why is this so important? Because, contrary to popular belief, teaching is
rocket science. Teachers must manage and monitor the activity, behavior,
diagnosis, remediation and growth of dozens of elementary
schoolchildren--and up to 175 students in high school.

It's an awesome challenge--and an awesome responsibility. Add in the
enormous challenges facing children who live in poverty (as do more than 85
percent of the children attending Chicago Public Schools), and it should be
reasonably understood why a two- or six-week crash course, or policies that
allow substitutes with no training or education background, are unfair to
our children.

The good news is that recent breakthroughs and research on teaching and
learning provide us with the tools and strategies needed to close the
achievement gap between rich and poor. Along with an increased interest in
standards for what students should know and be able to do, the teacher
education field also has focused on improving standards for what teachers
should know and be able to do. The challenge is in finding enough of what
one eminent educator calls the ''infinitely skilled'' professionals with
access to that knowledge base and the expertise to apply that knowledge.

Teacher education programs around the country have responded with more
rigorous coursework and more active involvement in real schools and
classrooms throughout the program. As a result, teacher education graduates
are coming into the profession better prepared.

Through its highly respected Quest Center--among the nation's first
union-sponsored agencies for teacher professional development--the Chicago
Teachers Union has over the last decade developed a variety of programs
designed to improve the quality of the city's teachers.

Far too often, however, professional development that could keep new
teachers afloat and experienced teachers updated on new research and proven
programs gets a low priority in the school system's budget. It's little
wonder we have difficulty attracting, then keeping, good teachers. Nearly 30
percent leave the profession after three years and almost 50 percent leave
after five years. 

Why is this so? For one, there is little support for new teachers. Very few
teachers have access to quality introductory programs that include mentoring
by an experienced colleague. New teachers are often disillusioned by the
lack of input and lack of respect they experience when the demands of
bureaucracy collide with their expectations of being professional.

What can be done about this complex situation?

* We must provide the support for every teacher currently teaching without a
certificate to get one.

* We must stop lowering hiring standards in the face of a nationwide teacher
shortage. The Sun-Times' series documents what happens when this occurs: too
many unqualified people standing in front of classrooms, especially in the
poorest schools. 

* We must examine and improve the working conditions of teachers, which are
why so many flee the classroom.

* We must reduce our school and classroom sizes, the most significant
correlate to student learning next to teacher quality. The biggest winners
when class size is lowered are poor children. With fewer students in a
class, skilled teachers can really get to know their students--how they
learn, and how they think. Children get the support they need.

Is our society ready to make these commitments? We should stop looking for
easy answers. What works in one school may not work in another. Most
important, let's not ignore the many teachers who can serve as a valuable
resource for discovering how to improve our public education system.

Deborah Lynch is president of the Chicago Teachers Union and a founder of
the CTU's Quest Center for professional development

This is the CPS Science Teacher List.

To unsubscribe, send a message to

For more information:

To search the archives:

Reply via email to