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Kevin Gary

Kevin Gary

This past Saturday, about 200 prospective students and their families attended Preview Day at Valparaiso University. Close to 20 of these students expressed interest in studying education at Valpo. They met professors and students in the Education Department, toured campus and talked with admissions and financial aid counselors. When I asked some of these students why they are considering majoring in education, I heard stories about great teachers who made a difference in their lives and the lives of other students. They recognize that this is extraordinary work — and they are right!

Several current education majors who spoke with the prospective students represent the kinds of students that graduate every year from Valpo’s education programs: thoughtful, passionate individuals who are dedicated to teaching as a profession and a vocation. These students spoke about the skills they are developing through their courses and fieldwork, their zeal for working with kids and the impact they see teachers making every day as they shadow professional educators and serve as student teachers in local schools. These students also defy the misguided stereotypes about students who choose to study education. This past spring, 84% of our graduates (32 out of 38) were honors students, earning a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Our secondary students double major in education and their content area (math, biology, history, world languages, etc.), so they become experts in both their chosen field and in how to teach it. Over the past two years, five of our graduates received Fulbright awards, representing one-third of the university’s total. In short, these are exceptional teacher candidates!

To prepare teachers well, we rely on excellent teachers and administrators here in Valparaiso as well as in Merrillville, Chesterton, Michigan City and beyond. These partnerships with area schools are indispensable. Principals and superintendents understand the time and preparation that good teaching requires.

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Teacher preparation, however, is becoming more difficult. Indiana teachers are poorly compensated and losing input over how and what to teach. As our students go into the field, they see teachers who are overworked, buildings that are under-resourced and understaffed, and work that is increasingly micromanaged by arbitrary curriculum and testing mandates. Unfortunately, many of the very people who should be in education — those who know what good teaching requires — eventually leave the profession in order to pursue work that is better paid, more highly respected, and less likely to lead to burnout. When that happens, our children, our local communities and our state lose out.

Today, thousands of Indiana educators will gather at the statehouse in Indianapolis to demand that legislators increase teacher compensation, repeal the new externship requirements for teachers and allow schools and teachers more time to improve ILEARN scores before they face penalties. These are reasonable priorities that will help our teachers, students, and schools — and, in the process, will make our state a better place for everyone. The legislature should listen and act.

Kevin Gary is a professor and chair of the Education Department at Valparaiso University. The opinions are the writer's.

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