Opinion

January 15, 2016 — Volume 36 Issue 1

Commentary

“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.

 


 

 

 

By William K. Simmons
Photo by Gilmer Free Press

Recent national attention on certain specific deficiencies among students in early education courses such as reading and math has sparked interest in ways to improve these essential skills. While not the total cause of the problem, teacher training and recruitment are key components in building an improved process for educating our youth. Current data will clearly support the need to improve the performance in basic skills of students nationwide. West Virginia could assume a leadership role in addressing the use of cutting-edge methodology, content, and personnel choices in the creation of a model teacher training academy for early education to meet the goals of the new Common Core Standards.

A further complication to the issue of well-prepared classroom teachers is the fact that most public school systems are dealing with a critical shortage of fully certified teaching staff. For over a decade now, some of our most capable college and university students have been electing careers in more lucrative areas such as business, accounting, medicine and law. The result is a lack of numbers entering teaching where income potential is modest.

Today, we have a very serious shortage of teachers in general and critical shortages in math, science, and special education.

What is to be done to address this problem? It is my opinion that West Virginia needs to take immediate steps to develop a model teacher training program whose mission is to recruit and train a core of the most able students to strengthen the heart of our public schools. Regardless of the terms we use to describe the approach to educating our young people, it takes well-prepared teachers in the classrooms to make for successful schools. By developing and implementing a program of recruitment, training and retention, we can begin to rebuild a core of well-trained teachers for our public schools.

Once established, a model program or academy would be staffed by the most capable personnel available in teacher preparation from West Virginia and across the country. The academy would have a board of governors, a dean of education, and a faculty who have successful records in teaching. Up-to-date knowledge of the latest methodology, mastery of content fields, proficient use of technology and a history of practicing teacher ethics would be required of teacher trainers. Once established and operational, the academy would serve as a resource center for teacher training programs throughout the state and country.

If a model teacher training program is not to be a new institution but a part of an already existing institution, it should be one with a history of teacher training. Since no one entity would possess all the resources needed, a cooperative arrangement among higher education institutions and public schools would need to be planned. West Virginia University and Marshall University are the major higher education institutions, and it would go without saying that they should be heavily involved in constructing the details of such a new initiative.

Part of the mission of the Academy would be to place special emphasis on training early education teachers for the Appalachian Region. Students in Appalachia have some special social, cultural and academic issues that teachers in this region must know and understand in order to effectively incorporate academic skills into their life patterns. Just as urban teachers have their own cultural and social challenges, rural areas present unique challenges that must be understood if we are successful in teaching students to read, speak and write effectively.

With the complexities of the modern classroom, it is generally accepted that the traditional four-year training program  for teachers is not adequate. Today’s teacher must be academically prepared in a subject area. However, they must be highly proficient in the use of educational technology and have preparation in social work education, human psychology, and working with special needs students. Realistically, it requires at least five years to prepare a teacher to meet the demands of the modern classroom. If a student completes a five-year program of teacher training, he should expect a Master of Arts degree in teaching.

A key element in the success of a model, five year teacher training program is the ability to recruit and retain good stud­ ents into the program. I would suggest that a mechanism be work­ ed out to actively recruit a corps of the most able academic students from our high schools each year for the next several years to become teachers and that we find creative ways to help them remain in school, and once they have completed their edu­ cational program, retain them in our State's classrooms.

West Virginia should take a leadership role in this most important effort to improve the lives of our children. With the implementation of a new generation of standards, it is incumbent upon those in leadership roles to see that the foundation upon which effective education is built is solid and long-lasting.

An extension of the current training program will not suffice for preparation of the needs for the future. Educational technology, changing social issues and increasing accountability have made the traditional four-year preparation programs inadequate for today's classroom demands. Through the cooperative efforts of our training institutions and the public school systems much improvement can and will be achieved. Who is going to take the initiative to make this five-year, Master’s Degree teacher training program a reality?

William K. Simmons, Ph.D., is president of the Gilmer County Board of Education. He has served on the school board since 2012.  He has served as an adjunct professor of humanities at Marshall University Graduate College as well as chancellor of the West Virginia Board of Regents (1983-1989) and as president of Glenville State College (1977-1988). He also served as professor for Mountain State University. He serves on the Regional Education Service  Agency 7 Regional Council and as member of the joint board governing Leading Creek Elementary School, which is jointly operated by the Gilmer County and Lewis County school boards.