April 12, 2024

Our educational system is a mass of contradiction. It is peopled by smart, dedicated professionals at every level. It has access to jaw-dropping technology and is supported by massive amounts of money from local, state and federal agencies. It has every reason to be the best educational system in the world. Yet the plain truth is, nationally the system is failing. Too high a percentage of our students are failing because, in spite of all of this, we are failing our students.There’s no point in citing the statistics; we’ve all heard plenty about falling test scores, dropout rates and teen illiteracy. When we hear such things, it hurts. And it hurts more because we have the money, the knowledge and the people we need to succeed. So although there are high-achieving schools and school districts, compared to what we should be achieving nationally, the system is failing.Nearly all educational professionals are clear on the results they’d like to see: students interested and involved in learning, higher academic achievement, lower absenteeism, and improved discipline. But, statistically, we can all see that things are getting worse-not better.Pinpointing the Problem: The “How-To” GapOur teachers are usually well-schooled in academic subjects, child psychology and educational theory. They graduate from college full of knowledge, dedication and enthusiasm. But when they get to their first day of school, they find that they have little idea how to apply what they know in the classroom. They don’t know how to connect the theories they learned to the results they want to achieve. They don’t know which tool to use to accomplish which task. There literally is a “how-to” gap.Experienced teachers, feeling the pain of this gap, take seminars and workshops, only to wind up with notebooks on the shelf and the same old frustrations in their classrooms. The frustration comes in realizing they “know” 90 percent of what they need. They’ve been taught theories and methods, yet they’re missing the final ten percent of what they need to “reach” the kids. They’re missing the delivery-the things that spark the kids’ interest in a subject, help them learn, make the subject meaningful and get them excited about it. The “how-to” gap remains.Closing the “How-To” GapTo close this gap, universities must teach future teachers how to deliver content in ways that reach their students. Graduate schools of education must do this too. Yet, for the most part this is not done. A professor in the graduate school of education at a major university told me how difficult, if not impossible, it is to get courses on “how to teach” included in the curriculum.Closing the “how-to” gap will also require that experienced teachers learn these important attitudes, skills and techniques. True, they are taking in-service workshops and seminars, but most simply do not offer what the teachers need in order to deliver that final ten percent.I’ve been in this field for over 25 years, and in that time I’ve seen some great teaching. I’ve seen students at every level, from primary grades to adult education, become engaged, excited and positively enthusiastic about learning. I’ve seen attendance soar, test scores rise and discipline problems disappear. I have seen what works put to work in the classroom. It’s not magical, it’s not difficult, and it’s not expensive. Some teachers discover it for themselves.But just imagine if every teacher were able to bridge the “how-to” gap. What would school be like if teachers were able to “reach” their students consistently? What if everything they did was on purpose, interesting and engaging? What if every student found learning exciting? What if they got the message that they are bright and capable and bound to succeed? What if teachers knew what they needed to do in the classroom so that the students actually learned and retained what the teachers were trying to teach?When taught how to effectively deliver content to get the outcome they want-joyful, engaged, successful learning-rookie teachers say, “This is what I thought I’d learn in college but never did.” Veterans say, “That’s what I’ve been trying to do my whole career. That’s why I got into teaching in the first place.” We must teach teachers how to deliver content in a way that “reaches” students and makes the content meaningful and relevant to their lives.It All Starts Here and NowYes, we’re failing our children, and closing the “how-to” gap is an answer to this horrific problem. Every minute we delay in filling the “how-to” gap, that’s one more child we’ve failed-one more frustrated teacher with passion and heart, standing before a class frozen, wanting badly to reach students, and not knowing how. Learning ABOUT teaching, but not HOW TO teach is not okay. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We have to make a start-here and now.