America’s schools today face many challenges. Preparing our students to compete in a global economy, bridging the achievement gap, bringing classrooms into 21st Century Learning, and keeping quality teachers in the classroom are complex issues with no easy solutions.
I recently read some research about quality teaching. (US News and World Report, September 2009) The article stated that it is better for a student to be in a “bad” school with a good teacher than to have a bad teacher in a “good” school. Many years ago I had the privilege of listening to Kati Haycock speak on the subject of increasing student achievement. She said that when she goes into schools, what is most distressing is that the best teachers are teaching the fewest kids. Conversely, the newest teachers teach the lowest level of students and have the largest class sizes. This inequality in our schools is hurting the population of students that need the greatest assistance. It not only hurts our students but also discourages young teachers. A few years ago at my previous school, a friend of mine left because he was told that he would never teach an upper-level class at our high school. This bright young man with great potential realized that our school was too entrenched in the seniority system, so he went elsewhere.
Failure to ask the question, “What is best for the students?” causes schools to be mired in mediocrity. Often, schools do what is expedient and do what they have “always done.” The saying “we never did it that way before” is too often used in today’s schools. This attitude has a devastating effect on student achievement. First, students underperform because inexperienced teachers who lack the tools necessary to motivate students are often the ones assigned to teach our reluctant learners. These are the students who most need access to our best and brightest educators. Additionally, when we fail to put students first, we discourage bright young men and women from entering into the teaching profession. If a prospective teacher feels that he will forever be placed teaching struggling students or is not given adequate resources to make a difference, he will either never enter the profession or leave education entirely after a short time.
The good news is that we can and should change the paradigm of education and bring those quality teachers to all of our schools. With the advent of 21st Century tools, it is now possible to have some of the best teaching in the country happening in multiple places at one time. Educators can record their lessons on the most difficult subjects and make these lessons available for students all over the country. As this becomes a reality, the role of the classroom teacher will change. He or she will go from being the sage on the stage to the guide on the side. The classroom teacher will spend his days interacting with students and pushing them to excel instead of spending time managing poor student behavior or presenting a scintillating lecture. Another advantage is that if the individual teacher is strong in some content, he or she can rely on a gifted distance teacher so his/her students will have access to that content.
When I have spoken around the country about what we are doing with the “Reverse Classroom,” some of the greatest interest has come from rural and urban schools who have a hard time finding teachers to teach some of the more difficult science and math courses. Those schools see the “Reverse Classroom” as a way for all of their students to have access to quality, high-level teaching that will open doors for their students.