Why is it that our country spends more money on education than any other country in the world, yet our students continually lag behind those of other countries? We have conducted standardized tests, we have strongly adhered to a 25:1 or less student-teacher ratio, we’ve implemented the “No Child Left Behind” policy. Many of our schools have teacher aids and advanced technology in the classroom. We are left dumbstruck because no matter how much funding, aid, smart boards and laptops we have, strides are not being made. Why is this so? It could be possible that money simply cannot buy certain basic philosophical needs that are necessary for education to flourish. Research has found that a teacher is the most important factor in the classroom and the quality of the teacher is twenty times more important with regard to successful student learning than any other factor, including class size, funding, student population, academic specialty or anything else. It has been proven that the consequences of both effective and ineffective teachers remain with the student for at least 2 years and that a student will remember how a teacher made them feel more than any other lesson given in the classroom.
What is an effective teacher and how do we produce them? Over the last 50 years studies have found that human beings need to learn in a loving, secure, safe environment and to feel a sense of belonging
and a sense of self-worth before they can be successful learners. In 1968, Abraham Maslow established in his Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid that learning is not possible unless these “deficiency needs” are met. It’s quite apparent that many children go to school today without having these needs met. What we need to ask ourselves is how we, as a society, can implement teachers who can help children fulfill these needs by being caring, nurturing, compassionate and loving toward their students. Is there a teacher’s litmus test for the tenure of moral virtue? Maybe there should be more focus on the ethics of a teacher we are hiring in addition to their academic qualifications (not discounting the importance of the latter.) After all, a teacher has a direct, daily influence on a child during the time they are with them 180 days, 6 hours a day – at least in Elementary School. Erik Erikson found that a child needs to have positive interaction with people in order to develop a healthy self-esteem and that this is vital in the earlier years.
While we have improvised certain tests and standards necessary for teachers to demonstrate their knowledge of education, have we considered whether or not they have the patience, tolerance and compassion for children? When psychologists are in training, they are “taught” to love their patients so they are able to identify with their condition and empathize with their pain. Are our teachers, who work with the most innocent and vulnerable beings in our world, being suitably trained? Is this their vocation or is it just a job with good vacations, tenure and benefits? Maybe we need to shift our focus and give some credence to Maslow’s and Erikson’s studies of 50 years ago by recognizing and taking steps to tend to these basic human needs that aren’t being met.
When a student recognizes that the teacher values his ideas and contributions in the classroom, and is not critical of his weaknesses or inadequacies, he will feel less inhibited and will thus be free to hone his skills and communicate his thoughts without reserve. It is only when this healthy student-teacher relationship exists that a positive learning environment can flourish. Compassion and concern for one another is contagious and will thus create a nurturing classroom environment conducive to learning and fostering individual growth. A mutual respect is developed between the teacher and students that will in effect open their minds to receive the education the teacher is providing to them. Respect is something earned when an individual feels a high regard for someone and values his or her opinions and insight. Without this respect, a student may potentially shut down or close their mind to any further intellectual growth. They remain fixated on their inadequacies and, as a result, may stunt their development by missing valuable lessons that are being taught. This feeling of acceptance or rejection in a classroom is almost instantaneous. Most children have an innate ability to discern whether they feel a positive or negative vibe in their environment. Young children are most often the verification, not the exception, to this trait. Children flourish in caring, nurturing and positive environments and it’s up to the one in charge to provide it.