What public school teachers need from you to help their students thrive

We asked teachers around the state what they most need help with in their classrooms. Here's what they had to say.
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We asked teachers around the state what they most need help with in their classrooms. Here's what they had to say.

As part of Crosscut's Community Idea Lab, we're challenging all of you to come up with solutions to improve K-12 learning for students and teachers across Washington. Specifically, we're looking for ways to make K-12 education more student-focused, personalized and community-rooted. 

To inform your ideas, we talked with teachers across the state about what they most need help with in their classrooms. Here's what they had to say.

The larger community could help students and schools statewide with:

·         Books for every student

·         Volunteer reading help for struggling readers

·         Funding for teachers and school leaders to spend time connecting with families

·         Efforts to appreciate teachers and school leaders

·         More technology to meet the demands of new assessments

·         Models to show students a wider variety of opportunities

·         A public forum to showcase students’ academic achievements

·         Support for computer engineering

These are the ideas of educators in a variety of roles around the state. Each person expressed passion about helping students to learn and succeed and described help from families, the larger community or geographically distant partners as an important piece of the recipe for student success.

Schools with more funds could adopt schools with less to provide books to students that don’t have a lot to read at their reading levels, said Marsha Moore, a former principal who is now an educational consultant for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. She travels around the state supporting schools identified as high need.

“We can’t pretend to have equity in education when we walk into classrooms across the state and don’t see kids with books in their hands,” she said. Moore described “fundamental flaws” in the ways schools are funded, but said that providing books for every student is a tangible goal that communities could work toward in the interim.

Another idea is to request donations from book publishers. One school she works with just received such a donation from Scholastic Corporation, she said.

“It would be fabulous if every classroom in our state had a well-stocked classroom library.”

Cheryl Coleman, who teaches third grade at Fall City Elementary in the Snoqualmie Valley School District, echoed Moore’s comments about reading being a high priority and a way that the community can help schools.

She described a program at her school where volunteers read with struggling readers 20 to 40 minutes a week. These are students who need more reading support but don’t qualify for formal extra help, she said.

This program, supported by parents and other volunteers who don’t even have children in the school, helps provide students a positive self-identity and support to reach new reading levels, Coleman said. It also helps teachers, who aren’t able to read one-on-one regularly with these students in a quiet setting, she said.

The ability to read, both to “crack the code and read efficiently,” is important for reaching learning goals in every area, she said, even in math.

Coleman proposed that this model could be replicated in some form for other schools. For instance, she has heard of corporations who pay employees to regularly help in the community.

When members of the community who don’t even have children in the school help at the school, “it solidifies and connects them in a different way. It’s a ripple effect really.”

Community engagement is also what Uti Cleveland, a second-grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in the Seattle School District, is advocating for. She would like to see both schools and the community put energy toward developing stronger relationships. When educators are not from the same community as their students, everyone can struggle with misunderstanding and mistrust, she said.

Community engagement is a big focus for her, and she has spent her own money several times a year to fund meals to bring the families of her students together to get to know her and one another better.

Cleveland thinks teachers and families shouldn’t have to pay for that. She’d love to see funding for that and other school efforts to engage families and the larger community, perhaps in the form of teacher visits to homes at the start of the school year and regular community meetings at school, “inviting people into the space and creating trust so that it’s an accessible place for the community.”

“One thing that is extremely important to school development, especially with school reform, is the intention of creating schools with a collaborative vision with the communities they serve.”

She’d like to see more effort from the community too, Cleveland said. All the teachers she knows care a great deal about their students, and communities could find more ways to appreciate teachers and administrators and to invite them to community events.

Other teachers identified additional resources — science materials, basic school supplies and computers or tablets — as needs. Some teachers have received funding from donors through websites like DonorsChoose.org, but continue to ask for help.

Michael Fitzgerald, who teaches fourth grade at Gildo Rey Elementary School in the Auburn School District, continues to seek more technology to help his students have more experience with technology as they face new computerized standardized testing.

This is “so the technology divide my students have at home doesn’t force them to see a difference in standardized testing results,” Fitzgerald said.

Todd Berthon, who teaches a new sixth- through eighth-grade life skills class for students with disabilities at Wapato Middle School in Yakima County, would like more computers or tablets for students. Right now, the only class computer is for the teacher.

“I’m trying to motivate my students to learn in ways other than using pen and paper. I’m trying to make learning more fun,” he said.

His class has more basic needs too — more money for printer cartridges and even pencils, paper and erasers. Parents brought those in at the start of the year, he said, and he’ll likely ask them to bring those in again.

Eric Carlson, who teaches science at Royal High School in Grant County, has sought and received many resources through Internet donations. He is currently looking for funds to bring to his school at least some of the former high school students, sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants, who won a college-level underwater robotics contest against an MIT team. Their story was told in the recently released movie “Underwater Dreams.”

Carlson wants to show his students that “these guys don’t have anything that you don’t have. If they can do it, what possibilities are available to you that you might not know about.”

Carlson would like to see the larger community take a greater interest in academic accomplishments, giving these some of the attention that people give sports figures and events.

Right now, often if students “showcase something at an engineering or science fair, no one knows or cares,” he said. Perhaps people could create a forum of some kind where students could receive attention and support for academic accomplishments.

Of the many academic areas, engineering is where Carlson would like to see schools place more emphasis. “Engineering plays a huge role in society, especially computer engineering.”

Have an idea for making K-12 education more student-focused, personalized and community-rooted? Submit it here by midnight on January 23rd.

Five finalists will win the chance to present their idea at Crosscut's Community Idea Lab at MOHAI on February 24th, where a panel of experts will provide feedback and the audience will vote on a winner.    


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