“Just Back Off and Let Us Teach: A Book for Effective Teachers and Those Who Champion Them” by Caroline Alexander Lewis— Reforming Education

just back off

Lewis, Caroline Alexander. “Just Back Off and Let Us Teach: A Book for Effective Teachers and Those Who Champion Them”, Dog Ear Publishing, 2014.

Reforming Education

Amos Lassen

It seems as if America is always in need of education reform and Caroline Lewis suggests that the reason for this is because teachers are not valued (as they once were). There are also too many commissioned studies of our schools and their testing practices. Lewis concentrates on what she calls SCOPE skills of which there are five and these are distinctive of effective teachers. She encourages teachers to self-examine and then grade themselves on how effective they are and to even use student feedback that is based on these five skills: sensitivity, communication, organization, professionalism and enthusiasm. She shows and explains to us what

effective teaching looks like, and how teachers who are super heroes are to thought off. Her call for reform includes the following:

  • Recruit, Retain, and Encourage Effective Teachers
  • Weed out bad teachers
  • Put a screeching halt to the negativity about teachers that exists in America today.

Instead of this country investing so much money on this reform, that money should invested in teachers’ salaries and professional development and in this way, education as a career will attract bright minds and keep them in the field. Those teachers who have the greatest influence on our children are to be rewarded for such.

Finland is one of the highest ranked nations when it comes to education and Lewis shows us how the Finns value their teachers and they are paid top salaries. She asks us what would happen here if we started our teachers at salaries of, say, $75,000. We could do this if we stopped all the wasting of money on federal reform which really does not help the system. Having, myself, spent more than 50 years in the classroom, I can say that we have heard this all before and nothing has ever come out of it. We would think that the government would have learned something by now.

What really needs to happen is for teachers unions to become an active partner in the campaign for effective teaching and I can tell you that are a former union rep, it is not easy to get the unions to take their manes off of mundane issues and work for real education. Unions work on salary negotiations, teacher benefits and classroom conditions but they do seem to have the courage to take on the most serious of issues—teacher qualifications and staff improvements. When I was once involved in a citywide teacher strike, we all knew the union would bend and achieve nothing and that is just what happened. I am so tired of hearing, “what about the children” when the teachers can hardly afford to support their families on what they make (and please pay heed that I use “make” rather than “earn”—to me respect is earned, decent salaries are earned—teachers are paid). There are unions that continue to provide job security for teachers who are simply not meant to teach (I do not want to say “bad” teachers) and they should be named and moved out of the system. Instead we see them receiving union protection. It is the job of the unions to be partners in the effort to bring back effective teaching. We should be ready to dispose of those teachers who either do not want to teach or simply fail at teaching.

We need qualified and good teachers to help all children especially those who come from poverty level conditions. Proper and good education is the doorway to better lives and it is the wish and the duty of most teachers to help students find their highest potential and bring them to the highest achievement levels possible.

Lewis challenges qualified teachers to take part in making the profession the kind it was—noble. I remember too well being a student myself and that we never dared to talk about a teacher at home or say something nasty to our parents about our teachers. In my home, teachers were right up there and next to God and it came as no surprise that I and my siblings entered the profession. We simply loved to teach and, in fact, I am still teaching. While I no longer love my profession as much as I once did, I still look forward to entering the classroom everyday. The love I once had has gone the way that respect for our profession has gone. We are the ones that educate the children and the students of America and we deserve to be respected for that—if we are good enough and that is the qualification.

Lewis gives us a guidebook to bring that respect back and we must realize that in order to do that we must dispose of the dead weight. There is really no other way. We, as teachers, need to be part of a noble profession and to grab opportunities to elevate the profession.

In her book, Lewis calls on effective teachers to do their part to make the teaching profession noble again, to seize opportunities to elevate teaching, and to be fully aware of their ability to impact learning and learners. We, once again, need to be respected and valued and we do not have to take criticism that is leveled at the entire profession. We need to do our jobs correctly and be paid for that.

An important way to keep effective teachers in the classroom is to make them feel valued and respected by lowering the volume of criticisms directed at them. “We must stop putting down teachers if we have any hope of reforming education and elevating student performance,” concluded Lewis.

“Lewis describes and celebrates effective teaching. Her book is part real world discussion of the qualities of effective teachers and part reminder of all the power that comes with the job.” She is aware of and recognizes what it takes to be effective teachers and we all need to have a check on teacher validation. We also need to recognize and understand the nature of tenure and how it lets some teachers slide for their entire lives.

 “Education reform strategies increasingly demoralize teachers in general” and Lewis claims that this is one of the reasons that some leave the profession earlier than expected. After all, it is all about the children who are the future of this country and the world. Why would enjoy settle for less than the very best?