I was talking earlier today with a friend, Jennevee Frias, who is a successful professional singer and financial advisor, about the value of good teachers. She said, as many people do, that she can trace many of her life decisions back to specific teachers who encouraged her and helped her find her way.
One teacher in particular, her high school music teacher, pushed her to realize her potential. She had always been serious about singing, but when she became a teenager, she lost motivation to sing and didn’t think it was something she could really do. “I didn’t think it was a real gift I had, even though it had been–for my my whole life–something that saved me. When that was gone I felt like I had nothing, but that teacher gave it back to me.” Her high school music teacher recognized her talent and also her uncertainty and need for direction at the time.
“He made it almost impossible for me to leave music behind. He went after me and told me, ‘This is your world. You have to do this.'” When she didn’t try out for the high school musical, the casting director called her and told her her name was on the list for tryouts. She knew that her music teacher had signed her up. She ended up trying out and landing the lead. “I felt like I had every reason to give up singing, but he made me feel like I had every reason not to. It was very much a difficult time in my life, and I needed music more than ever,” says Frias. In addition to her career in finance, Jennevee continues to sing and act and is recording an album of original music with her band, Lo Primo.
The difference this music teacher made in Jennevee’s life was invaluable, yet it probably had little direct impact on her standardized test scores. Students need teachers who see it as part of their mission to recognize and help students develop their strengths as well as make strong decisions. Most of us have benefitted at some point from a teacher like this and we would want the same for our own children.
Taking this story into account, two things need to change in how we measure teacher effectiveness:
(1) Teachers need to be rewarded for the impact we have on our students, beyond their performance on standardized tests, which is far too narrow, and beyond their performance in the year that we actually teach them. Some lessons show up much later, as we saw in the story of the $300,000 kindergarten teacher.
(2) Current programming and accountability measures discourage teachers and students from focusing on the arts. Arts programs are virtually non existent in city schools today and are not part of the testing movement. I’m not advocating for arts to become tested subjects, but I am advocating for them to be valued and developed. They can, in fact, save lives.