Legislators should spend time with teachers to gain insights

The General Assembly should be commended for taking the issue of teacher shortages in Indiana seriously.

The proposal now being discussed, which would give college students a chance to get their tuition fully paid for by the state if they agree to spend five years teaching in classrooms after they graduate, is a good beginning toward addressing some of Indiana’s educational challenges.

But it’s only a beginning. There needs to be a comprehensive master plan if we want to improve our educational system in a way that will ultimately enable all Hoosier students to thrive.

As legislators begin to consider this subject in detail, let me offer some suggestions that will make their final legislation more comprehensive and beneficial.

  • It’s not enough to pay for future teachers to attend college. We need to make sure they graduate from a high-quality teacher education program that provides rigorous preparation. That is, we need to make sure they’re getting the right kind of education to succeed in the classroom. Legislators should review each college’s placement rate, information from the national accreditation process through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and, of course, the success of teachers who have come through each program.
  • We need to make sure tuition reimbursement is available not only for newly minted graduates but for people who want to change careers to become teachers.
  • We must increase teacher salaries and encourage and reward those who seek advanced professional development. You won’t keep teachers if you don’t address the salary issues — both starting salaries and annual raises. We need to think long term.
  • We have to think about positive messaging that encourages people to become teachers. Teaching is a noble, wonderful profession, but it has been degraded and demoralized in many ways. It’s time to recognize and honor teachers for their work.

We hear a lot these days about how well education works in Finland. Sadly, we are doing the opposite of what they do in Finland. Finnish teachers are treated as professionals. They have autonomy when it comes to things like curriculum decisions. Our teachers are going to continue to be discouraged if they’re told what to teach, how to teach, and that they need to teach to the test.

As our legislators work toward a comprehensive plan, I would like them to do two things. One is get a neutral, nonpolitical entity to look at how much money Indiana has spent in the past five years on standardized tests.

What else could we have done with the money? I think we could have spent the money more effectively. In the words of Stanford professor of education Linda Darling Hammond: We cannot test our way to Finland. Everything can’t be about the test.

I’d also ask that legislators spend time in actual teacher education programs. Spend a day or two with us to see what we’re doing to educate the next generation of teachers.

If you’re making policy decisions, you should see what’s being done. You’ll walk away with a richer understanding of what needs to be done to support our efforts, and you’ll draft legislation that will benefit Indiana now and in the future.

Ena Shelley is dean of Butler University’s College of Education. Send comments to awoods@tribtown.com.