This is the weekly radio address delivered on Saturday by Governor Paul LePage.
This last week I had the honor of congratulating Alana Margeson, a teacher at Caribou High School, on being named the 2012 Maine Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Margeson brings enthusiasm, energy and a natural positive outlook to her classroom.
She engages her students in debate, inquiry, research and discussion. She encourages taking risks and thinking “outside the comfort zone.” In short, she is helping her students succeed academically and in preparing for their futures.
The research is clear: more than class size or choice of textbooks or curriculum, having an effective teacher has the most profound effect on student success. If we are to do only one thing to improve our schools, it must be to ensure that every student in Maine has an Alana Margeson at the front of the classroom.
To make that happen, we are accelerating work that began in Maine and nationally in the past few years to support teachers and other educators in improving their professional skills and improving student learning. And we are doing it together—teachers and school administrators, the business community and teacher preparation programs, school boards and unions.
First, we need to attract our best and brightest into teaching. In some of the highest-performing school systems in the world, the teaching profession is highly regarded and well paid. It’s highly competitive to become a teacher in those systems, and those teachers come with significant training both in their subject areas and in the best teaching practices.
We need to make sure there are opportunities for mid-career folks who are looking to make a difference, too. It is unfair to professionals seeking a career change and harmful to students to throw artificial barriers in the way that keep promising to keep educators of any age out of the classroom.
Some high performing school systems require that teachers have advanced degrees in the field they’ll be teaching: we need to be sure our teachers have the content-area knowledge they’ll need to be effective.
They also need to spend a lot of time in actual classrooms, working with actual students under the guidance of a mentor teacher.
And once they are in the classroom, we need to provide meaningful evaluations of teachers, not the haphazard evaluations we currently have and, in some cases, no evaluations for years at a time.
Think about it: it is entirely unfair to ask our teachers to improve student performance but not give them clear expectations and measures, then evaluations based on those expectations.
We have recently begun work with 18 schools in five districts on piloting new evaluation systems. These are not imposed from the top. The teachers in these “Maine Schools of Excellence” agreed to enter the process and are playing an active role in setting the expectations they will be measured by, as well as the results of those evaluations. Most important, they are engaged in significant professional development to constantly improve teaching practices.
When teachers are not meeting the expectations, just as with students, we need to work with them and help them get better. If, with additional training and support, student learning does not improve in their classrooms, then we need to encourage that they find another line of work.
Making changes like these won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap. And in our current economic climate, we can’t afford to spend more, even to make our teachers better. So we’ll have to spend smarter. We need to ask ourselves if we are making the most out of every education dollar.
For example, we’ve consolidated some school districts in recent years, but isn’t there more we can do to consolidate and regionalize non-instructional services for schools? We can leave existing school districts and school boards in place and still find savings by sharing back office operations such as administration and payroll. Some districts are already leading the way in these efforts.
And today, each school district hires its own lawyers and negotiates its own teacher contracts. Is that something we can still afford? And does it improve learning? Maybe it is time for a single statewide teacher contract that would put common policies and practices in place for all teachers in Maine. The savings on all those contract negotiations would be huge, and we could use those savings to pay teachers instead of paying lawyers.
This brings us back to Mrs. Margeson and the thousands of devoted and effective teachers like her. Every student in Maine deserves an effective teacher in the classroom, every day in every class, every year.