More to teaching than facts

It was one of those “duh!” moments in which someone makes a point so obvious you wonder why on earth it didn’t occur to you.

A local educator (not in my family, by the way) and I were talking the other day about some of the “school reform” legislation handled by the West Virginia Legislature this year. I asked her about the so-called “Teach for America” proposal.

Teach for America is an organization that recruits people interested in teaching and works with school districts to place them in classrooms. They receive a few weeks of pedagogy training before going to work.

The original reform bill didn’t mention TA but, instead, aimed at making it easier for schools to hire teachers with “alternative certifications.” TA is just one of many paths to that.

West Virginia requires public school teachers to be certified to do their jobs. Most of the time, that means they have graduated from colleges or universities and have education degrees.

When I asked the teacher to whom I was talking about alternative certification, she was quick to say she thinks it has a place in high schools.

But not in elementary schools, she emphasized.

Here’s the thing: Way too many people think knowing the subject matter is all there is to teaching. It isn’t.

I have teachers in my family, and I’ve heard them discussing tactics and strategies to get through to children who aren’t learning what they should.

On occasional visits to classrooms, I’ve watched other teachers use their considerable skills, including sophisticated psychological and sociological tricks, to get through to kids.

Early childhood is the key to learning throughout life. If you lose a child then, you may never be able to get him or her back. If you hook the youngster on learning, 90 percent of the lifelong battle is won.

That’s why it’s critical that elementary school children be handled by people who know teaching as well as their subject matter.

A few weeks or months of alternative certification training seldom produces a truly skilled teacher.

That doesn’t make as much difference for older students – but it is critical for those in elementary school.

Alternative certification will come up again in the Legislature. When it does, let’s hope the lawmakers understand there’s a difference between high school students and younger children, and what they need from teachers.