CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Patrick Lane is correct in stating the children of West Virginia are behind and that we must properly educate them ("Educate students to succeed," in the Oct. 25 Gazette). Also, children should be the focus of our schools so they will "be part of a well-educated work force tomorrow."
To address the points Mr. Lane made in his commentary, first we cannot, nor should we, invest every available dollar earmarked for education to the classroom, as much as we would like to. Administrators are necessary. They provide guidance, discipline and other important duties. Classroom teachers should not have this burden. Perhaps the answer to this problem would be to make sure that administrative and bureaucratic educational positions are not duplicated. We could also cut spending on unnecessary meetings and travel. Some things are necessary, but an evaluation of how money is spent, especially at the bureaucratic level, should be a focus.
The issue of teacher pay has been long debated. My problem is not so much with how much I make; I knew I was not going to get rich being a teacher. I teach because I love to teach, and I love my students. One of the major issues that teachers face is a lack of respect. We are professionals and should be treated as such. Parents, legislators, administrators other bureaucrats and the students themselves blame teachers for the ills of education. Legislators could show support of teachers by addressing the issue of pay.
Administrators and bureaucrats could show support by not making teachers jump through so many hoops. Just let us teach! Lesson plans and some training are necessary, but rarely do we get a day to work on our own. Instructional support and enhancement days are full of meetings. We are allotted only one day to prepare for a new school year. Then we are expected to have syllabi, lesson plans, pacing guides, bulletin boards and classrooms ready for the first day.
Many teachers donate several days before school starts to be up and running on the first day. This should not be the case. Teachers should be provided this time. If a business professional or a lawyer needed more time to complete a job, they would be paid in accordance.
Parents and students should take responsibility for the actions or the inaction of students. Teachers are there to teach the child and, hopefully, to set an example of what it means to be a human being. Parents and students should look to themselves for many of the problems facing education. Without family support, discipline and guidance, students struggle to succeed.
Second, Mr. Lane addressed "mandat[ing] 180 days of meaningful classroom time." In my classroom, we do have meaningful classroom time, and I think this is the case in most other classrooms across the state. Many of the teachers who were there just to draw a paycheck have retired. Teachers in classrooms now are there because they love what they do. Pep assemblies and other in-school activities are not only fun, but they encourage students to interact with each other. School is not just about social studies, English, mathematics or science. School is about being a part of that community. When students know how to interact with others and know what it takes to be a part of a community, they will be better citizens.
Also, the WESTEST seems to have found its place at the end of the school year for most school systems in the state. Counties are starting school earlier to ensure that students receive the allotted 180 days and in case there are missed days due to inclement weather. Most schools are ending the year near the end of May.
Third, Mr. Lane listed offering "high level challenging courses in every school." West Virginia schools are addressing the issues of rigor and relevance in the classroom. All high schools are required by the Legislature to offer at least four advanced placement classes a year. In my school, we have more. Not only do we offer AP English and math courses, but we offer AP social studies and science classes. Other schools offer International Baccalaureate classes. If a school is very small and rural, students may take advanced classes through the Virtual School offered by the West Virginia Department of Education. But rigor and relevance is not just addressed in these higher-level classes but in every classroom.
Finally, teachers should not be evaluated on the performance of students on a standardized test. Teachers should be evaluated on their performance in the classroom and their students' performance in the classroom. Students detest the WESTEST and all standardized testing! The only way we are going to get students to take the WESTEST seriously is for it to become part of the grade a student receives in class. Once that is done, then, maybe, just maybe, you can base my evaluation on the performance of someone else. And, I do not want $10,000 extra for the doing the job I am paid to do. Pay me $10,000 more because I am training the future of West Virginia and the United States.
I understand I am not one of Mr. Lane's constituents. I am a concerned citizen, but I have been silent long enough. The bottom line for education in West Virginia is the focus must be the children of West Virginia. We must offer them not only a valuable education and learning experience, but we must make them ready for the workplace. We must understand that some will go to college, some will go to technical schools, and some will go to work directly after high school. We must encourage our children to be the best that they can be and instill in them the desire to achieve.
Also, we must plan for the future of our children. This means drawing new businesses into our state to provide jobs or offering other incentives for businesses to grow. Our children truly are our future and our legacy, but we must lead the way.
Allred, a teacher at Scott High School in Boone County, is the Gilder Lehrman Institute's 2012 National History Teacher of the Year.