Guest teachers in public schools
My parents, as high school sweethearts, were the product of public schools a handful of miles from downtown Atlanta, within what we know of today as the Atlanta “perimeter.”
The nearby Atlanta public school system (APS) today is in the kind of trouble that hurts its students badly, and also can have a far reaching impact on the city and state economy. One reason is a scandal that we might call “cheatgate,” wherein it’s alleged that there was a fairly widespread effort on the part of APS employees to falsify their students’ standardized test scores. Constant coverage of “cheatgate” by the regional paper The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has put the school system, its superintendent, and its teachers in an unpleasant light.
Now, Atlanta Public Schools has been put on accreditation probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
Atlanta city councilman Kwanza Hall asked the following excellent question on Twitter today:
To which I responded:
That answer is a short version of a hazily defined vision I have for the future of education in high schools and state colleges. I believe the future of public education — at least, at the secondary and post-secondary levels — needs those members of the community who have proven expertise in their fields to become more involved in the education of the next generation.
Now, I’m familiar with the excellent Teach for America program, which trains college graduates as well as professionals to serve in inner-city schools for a period of two years. But there are factors we must consider: the societal norms of the professionals who need to be involved (workers from Generation X, and those from Generation Y and Generation Z who have entered the workforce), and the ideal learning environment for our high schoolers and college students. Taking those factors into account, I believe it’s best for the professionals and the students to take even more of a “short-burst” approach than a two-year commitment.
We need to encourage those who are passionate experts in their chosen careers to be able to guest teach or lecture in public school / state college classrooms for short periods of time. Perhaps every public high school class in any topic should be strongly encouraged to bring in an outside speaker once every few months (or, if community involvement is high, even more often). What are the obstacles?
- Finding / rewarding interested guest speakers
- Fostering an environment that encourages students to be respectful to the guests
- Fostering an environment where the actual teacher is comfortable with having guests and integrating them into a lesson plan
- Correlating a guest teacher/lecturer to actual content that needs to be covered
I believe all of the above are solvable. But there may be one other big obstacle:
- Most professionals won’t want to undergo any other educational training, like getting a teaching certificate
For all of the above reasons, and perhaps especially the last one, I return to my Twitter response that a “seamless solution” is needed. Such a solution would require business organizations and trade groups working closely with state and federal education personnel. I envision a US-wide government portal website, akin to today’s http://www.Serve.gov or http://www.Teach.gov. However, the new portal would serve the sole purpose of making it easy for professionals and schools to network and find each other for guest teaching opportunities. A professional should be able to see requests from his/her local schools, and a teacher/administrator should be able to post his/her exact needs.
Who knows? After a careerist outside the school system does a few guest teaching stints at various schools in her neighborhood, she may very well decide that teaching is her true calling. That would be both a wonderful side effect, and a commendable choice.
Relatively early in his Presidency, Barack Obama set a mandate of ensuring high school students are ready for “college or career.” I believe school systems and their communities need to take that seriously. In summary, one of the ways to work towards that goal, and become more closely connected, is by fostering this kind of “short burst” involvement by passionate professionals. There’s an old African proverb which has been quoted by many authors, and one famous First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State: “It takes a village to raise a child.” This vision of streamlining a path for career professionals to assist with public education is another way to try to meet the demands of that proverb.