May 23, 2011

High School Student Weighs In On Ed Reform

Ryan Sieli, 17, is a junior at Marquette High School in St. Louis Missouri. He says he became inspired about changing the current education system by watching the movie "Waiting for Superman."
Who would you expect to be writing a blog about the state of public education? A concerned government official? A recently laid off teacher? How about a school superintendent? These are all the typical names you would probably expect to see weighing in on education reform. You would probably expect them to be on news programs. You would probably expect them to be arguing over budget cuts and spending. But what you might not expect is a high school student coming out and saying how he views the national education reform debate. Sometimes, we students wonder, if we speak out, will anyone listen? How will people respond? So, I guess you could call this blog something of an experiment.
Let's start by talking about teachers who aren't performing as well as they should be, or as well as their peers. I'm sure that sentence alone put myself on the opposite side of the education debate for about half of the people reading this. But why? If I started this sentence off with "School bus drivers who get speeding tickets shouldn't drive kids," you probably would agree. However, in our society, it has become anti-teacher to raise questions about the quality of our educators or to ask that teachers be judged based on student learning. Employees in almost every other occupation expect to see their performance measured. Why not teachers?
As a test subject in the experiment going on now that we call high school, I have seen students drop out of challenging courses or fail them simply because of uninspiring, weak teaching. I have also had teachers change our outlook on a particular subject, and even school in general, because of their exceptional quality. A teacher can and will change a kid's life. I am in NO way saying the teacher is the sole determining factor in how a student performs, but it is almost crazy to suggest that it isn't a factor at all.
So how do we measure a teacher's success? I'm not here to answer the question, but I can say that it needs to be asked. I believe we should create laws and polices that motivate teachers to be the best they can be, and also motivate talented college grads to become teachers.
One teacher who has inspired me is my 10th-grade honors geometry teacher, Mrs. Bontrager. The story about her influence on my life actually starts in 7th grade when I transferred from a private elementary school to a public middle school. When I made the switch, the math classes were unsynchronized and I was put in a lower-level math course. For several yeas, I felt looked down upon by teachers and students because I was in many honors courses, yet in a lower-level math class. However, I had the opportunity to get back on the honors track when geometry came up my sophomore year of high school. I so badly wanted to prove to everyone that I was talented in math, and Mrs. Bontrager helped me do that. There truly was something different about Mrs. Bontrager. Her class structure made it nearly impossible for a motivated student to fall behind, and she was always available to help a pupil before or after school. She also always made sure that she answered every question before moving on to another subject, all the while keeping the class on task. Teachers like her can truly change kids' lives; whether it is a couple points higher on an ACT, or the pursuit of a career based in mathematics. These are the type of teachers schools needs to reward and fight to keep.
I believe that there are many other high-quality teachers out there, in fact I know there are. Yet the way we treat them in regards to salary and tenure doesn't make sense anymore. The current system in which we go about hiring, paying and employing our teachers doesn't work for anybody. Teachers are nation builders and they deserve to be held to a higher standard. If we can pass bills that will keep good teachers teaching and move out those who are low performing, we can catch up with countries like Finland and South Korea in terms of the quality of public schools and once again become The Education Nation.
The views presented on our guest blogs are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of StudentsFirst. We thank all of our guest bloggers for their thoughtful perspectives.

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