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Commentary: It Takes Well-Trained Teachers

<p>It takes great teachers to ensure our students can make the most of their abilities.</p>

The success of our education system depends more than anything else on great teachers.

They are the ones dedicated to understanding each student’s individual needs, who know that one is a visual learner and another learns better in group settings. They take time after the school day ends to provide extra support and before the next day begins to ensure their pupils will enter a welcoming environment.

They are educators like Delaware Teacher of the Year Jon Sell, who voluntarily took on additional leadership responsibilities to help his peers overcome challenges. They are also like Delaware elementary social studies instructor Jill Szymanski, who was recently named National History Teacher of the Year for creating lessons, such as her year-long “Civil War Museum” project, which bring the past to life while developing students' critical literacy skills.

Recognizing that teacher quality is the most important school-related factor in a student’s academic success, the challenge for policymakers is to ensure educators have the resources and opportunities they need to be at their best in the classroom.

That starts with listening to our teachers. In Delaware, we have begun conducting a statewide teaching and learning conditions survey to more fully understand their views.

And, we are working to ensure they have access to up-to-date technology. Preparing students for 21st century colleges and careers requires increasing our investments in computers and mobile devices, as well as in assistance for teachers to help them get the most out of these tools.

In addition, our state has established “professional learning communities” to provide interactive opportunities for educators to learn from each other. All teachers meet with a small group of their peers for 90 minutes each week to discuss student data and talk about which instructional practices are resulting in the most improvement for our young people.

We can also do more to ensure prospective teachers receive the best possible training. I'm proud of legislation we passed this year to require quality student teaching experiences and incorporate research-based reading and math instruction methods, all of which are lacking at the majority of teacher preparation programs. Furthermore, we’re setting minimum admission standards for these programs because we cannot accept that less than one quarter of our teachers graduate in the top third of their college classes.

To attract more of the top students to the profession, we must show we appreciate our teachers. That means, even in challenging fiscal environments, investing in them with quality materials for their classrooms and a compensation system that reflects our values.

We have made some important progress in Delaware that I look forward to sharing at the Education Nation panel on teacher quality, but we have more work to do. I’m eager to hear other recommendations. Given the importance of the subject, it should be a lively discussion. However, I’m sure we will all agree on one point: it takes great teachers to ensure our students can make the most of their abilities.