Public Values

Teachers matter in the public education system

Educators often react wearily to the endless trends and fads that wash over their world.

Author Rick Salutin writes a five-part series on the state of public education in Ontario.In the first of a five-part series for the Toronto Star, Rick Salutin examines the importance of teachers in public education system classrooms, stressing that a good teacher builds relationships with students. Salutin also highlights Finland's key accomplishment in public education, the professional development and resulting autonomy of teachers.

Last fall I attended a talky, high-powered Toronto education conference well-stocked with big international players. I took a few hours off to see a class in a nearby school. The class was already on when the vice-principal showed me in and shut the door. I looked around. The kids were rapt. That's when it hit me: You shut the door of the classroom behind you and all bets are off.

The whole range of topics at the conference — curriculum, "value-added assessment", leadership — becomes moot when that door shuts. Improvement in achievement comes from good instruction, says former BC deputy education minister Charles Ungerleider, not from anything else. Kids know it — how couldn't they? They're in there with that teacher five or six hours a day every day in the early years and x number of periods later on. It's like being stuck with your family. It works or it doesn't. Teachers know it and that may be why they often react wearily to the endless trends and fads that wash over their world. ...

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The Series

It's called public education, but the "public" part has never been more under threat. Tighter budgets and growing demands mean changes are likely.

In a five-part series, writer Rick Salutin examines our public school system. Where is it succeeding and where does it fall short? What are the pitfalls — and possibilities — of mimicking trends elsewhere?

A grant from the Atkinson Charitable Foundation allowed Salutin to spend several months exploring these issues in Toronto, as well as travelling to Finland and Saskatchewan.

Posted: April 20, 2011

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