When I went off to college to learn to be a teacher, the responsibility of an elementary school teacher was mostly teaching “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic,” the 3Rs. Social studies, science and physical education rounded out the curriculum. Then came monitoring the cafeteria, to accommodate students receiving free lunch, then free breakfast. Students, we determined, couldn’t learn if they were hungry. Now we have decided that there are many other demands on a teacher’s time that are “necessary” for students to learn so we’ve expanded the “mission” of school.
Since I’ve been a member of the state board, I’ve visited with teachers, administrators, and taxpayers in the school districts I represent. I’ve found that we’ve come a long way from the “3 R’s”. For example, teachers are now required, in teacher prep programs, to take courses that enable them to teach non-English speaking students. Classes aren’t directed toward any specific language but languages in general (HB14-1298). The students are called English Language Learners (ELL). If teachers are already in the classroom, they are required to take continuing education courses in ELL as they earn credits to maintain their teaching credential.
Another tough duty is dealing with special needs students. I recently visited with several special education (SPED) teachers who specialize in Autism. Some students are with their SPED teacher for part of the day and integrated into a general classroom the rest of the day. The SPED teachers told me that it is essential that all classroom teachers take specific coursework in teaching and understanding students with Autism. So far this is not a requirement.
Teachers are also expected to incorporate “social and emotional” lessons into their classroom curriculum. Students are coming to school without skills usually learned at home; therefore, teachers need to include social-emotional skills in classroom lessons. Teachers are also required to have an understanding of suicide prevention, depression, mental illness, and bullying. And then there’s drug prevention, sex education and “safe schools.” It’s understandable why school administrators continue to request more school counselors and health professionals to address these needs.
Another area where teachers need ongoing professional development is in technology, and it’s effective use in the classroom. On the flip side of technology, parents are becoming more concerned about too much “screen time” for their students in and out of school. Social skills and socialization may be compromised, say when too much time is spent on technology.
And I almost forgot about testing. At our August meeting this week we’ll receive test results from the Colorado Measurement of Academic Success (CMAS) and the SAT, used for college admission.
So much to teach in so little time.
On a positive note, with the economy doing better, the legislature was able to put 10 percent more money into the K-12 budget for next year. A grateful Superintendent that we visited with on the Western Slope said he was giving his teachers a raise. As the economy improves the legislature sees the probability of additional money in the future.
I ask you, “What’s a teacher to do?” Only one word comes to mind, RECESS!
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the Third Congressional District. She writes the monthly column, “Across the Street” to share with constituents in the 29 counties she represents. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol.