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Learning takes more than teaching. It requires mentoring, training, parents and more

Learning takes more than teaching. It requires mentoring, training, parents and more
Some groups focus on mentoring as a means of helping instructors become better teacher (David Suter / For The Times)

To the editor: Karin Klein's opinion piece suggests mentoring to improve teaching skills. A good idea, but it doesn't address the core of the problem.

First, define "teacher ... ''

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Time is up! What's the right answer? People talk of "teaching" as if means "magically instill knowledge." It doesn't work that way; learning takes work.

( "How to make a better teacher," Opinion, Sept. 5)

My definition: a teacher helps students learn. Students put forth needed effort. Teachers help. They guide and facilitate, making learning fun when they can, but hold students accountable. But teachers can't prepare students for class, or check that they complete homework before watching TV. Parents are supposed to do that.

Want to improve teaching?

Mentor parents about what their kids are expected to do.

Jeff LaCoss, Los Angeles

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To the editor: Many of Klein's suggestions may very well result in an improvement in instruction, but she, like so many others, misses an elephant in the classroom.

As a 30 -year decorated veteran teacher in a well- thought-of public school, it is my experience that school administrators don't necessarily gain their position because they were quality teachers or because they can identify quality teaching.

Many of them are, unfortunately, looking to enhance their status and income by adopting the latest in educational jargon and by becoming "change agents" in order to ascend the occupational ladder. They haven't the time to deal with the poor teachers. Average teachers who are sufficiently sycophantic rise are favored. The "great" teachers — who challenge administrative-backed change with nothing but the students' interests at heart — are hassled and marginalized.

Bill Fauver, Redondo Beach

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To the editor: I agree with Klein that "the conversation about teacher quality is dominated by issues of firing and evaluation." I also agree with her that "we can't fire our way" to get better teachers. Klein doesn't mention, however, that the conversation about teacher quality is almost never about mindless and wrongheaded textbooks and curricula. When that happens, we can more easily make better teachers.

Mara Casey, Laguna Niguel

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To the editor: I was a mentor teacher and taught all levels of secondary mathematics for 35 years including Advanced Placement Calculus.

Consider this: It is much more likely that a student at an economically poor school will have a bad teacher. These are the students are most affected by bad teachers because they are more likely to have less support at home; that in elementary school, students have only one teacher most of the day and a bad teacher can devastate a student; and in subjects like mathematics where first-year algebra must be passed to take geometry, a bad teacher can turn off a student to mathematics.

I agree that "pretty great teachers can be made" using master educators. The difficulty here is how to identify those master educators.

Steve Murray, Huntington Beach

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To the editor: The foundation's name – The ART of Teaching – says it all. Find the better teachers, support them in strengthening and expanding the creative skills they already possess and use them as mentors for newer, struggling teachers.

No mandates, no finger pointing, no recriminations – just great teachers gathered together feeding off the collaboration with each other building stronger educational structures that benefit their students and schools.

I would go a step further: Base all college teacher preparation programs on this model. It would improve the sort of young teacher candidates being produced and also would draw the more creative, risk-taking teenagers created by our cyber-society into teaching as a profession.

Bob Bruesch, Rosemead

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To the editor: I was extremely insulted by the opinion piece. Two claims were particularly appalling: "most teachers [are] not terrible, not great" and "most students and parents can't count many more [than three] teachers who in their experience are shining stars of inspiration and knowledge." Not only does she imply that the majority of teachers are mediocre, but there is little indication as to where Klein obtained the "data" to support these indictments.

A professional writer should not make damaging claims about a group of people without evidence.

In 20 years of teaching in public schools, I have found that Klein's statements are not true for teachers. Perhaps, though, they are true in her profession: "Most writers [are] not terrible, not great."

Marguerita Drew, Glendale

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To the editor: What Finland realizes is that teaching is an honorable profession and honorable people choose the profession. What that means is that the vast majority of teachers are always looking to improve upon their practices. They don't need financial incentives to do so. They spend every day in the classroom with students who inspire them to find more solutions to their educational (and other) needs.

Pam Sunderman, Newport Beach

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