- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) hosted 15 award-winning teachers and principals from Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties at a special luncheon held Monday at Running Hare Vineyard in Prince Frederick.
Hoyer was on a tour of Calvert County that also included a trip to the Morgan State Estuarine Research Center at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in St. Leonard.
The outspoken group of school personnel included recipients of the Agnes Meyer Washington Post Outstanding Teacher Award, The Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award, the county Teacher of the Year awards and the Kennedy Center Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award.
While Hoyer said the luncheon “has nothing to do with politics,” it did have to do with policy in that he wanted input on what was happening within the schools.
“As we move forward, we need to energize,” said Hoyer, who called teachers “the most important people in our society.”
Darla Strouse, who coordinates the Maryland Teacher of the Year Program with the Maryland State Department of Education, also attended the luncheon and lauded Hoyer for his education advocacy.
“If you ever decide ‘enough of being a politician,’ you need to be a teacher,” Strouse told Hoyer.
Diedra Tramel, the principal of Frances Fuchs Early Childhood Center in Beltsville, started out the discussion saying that even with the implementation of Common Core Standards in Maryland, “I hope that people will not lose sight that there’s more than one way to get to a target.”
Tramel said parent involvement was a huge deal at her school to the point in which she tells a parent “you have got to be there” when her staff is doing all they can to help a student.
Teacher Dawn M. Caine of Windy Hill Middle School in Owings said parent involvement, while helpful, cannot be something on which a teacher depends.
Caine said teachers need more time to collaborate with each other, “not just looking at scores and talking about the test.”
Teacher Amy Gibson of Huntingtown High School said she agreed with Caine and also wanted to see her peers held to a higher standard.
“I’d like to see teaching become a profession that attracts the best and the brightest,” said Gibson, which led Hoyer to point out that it’s difficult to fire a constantly underperforming teacher.
Linthicum Elementary School Principal Fran Nussle said it’s easier to determine whether a newer teacher will last in a profession than a veteran teacher who might be stuck in his or her ways.
“They either have it or they don’t ... so it’s a lot easier to have that conversation ‘is this really what you signed on for,’” said Nussle, of the newer teachers.
Nussle said younger teachers often “want what their peers have,” meaning a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job with no take-home work.
“They get that call saying ‘Hey, lets go’ and it’s hard to say ‘I have report cards,’” Nussle said. “ ... It’s overwhelming.”
Nussle said these teachers, particularily at under-performing schools, need more peer mentors.
Strouse said she thought the constant pressure and talk of test scores made people lose sight of how many effective teachers there really were.
“I’d bet 85 to 90 percent really are good teachers,” Strouse said.
Gibson said she’d disagree that it’s more like around 30 percent of teachers are really good; 30 percent of teachers are ineffective; and 30 percent are mediocre.
Leonardtown Middle School Principal Lisa Bachner said in her opinion the biggest issue teachers face is keeping up with the changing technology used in the schools.
“ ... Once you hit that 30 year mark, you kind of rest on your laurels,” Bachner said.
“Once you rest on your laurels, you’ve lost your class,” Gibson said.
Teacher Martha Gardner of Belvedere Elementary School in Arnold said technology would never top a creative teacher.
“My lessons are way smarter than a SMART Board,” Gardner said. “My lessons are fun and exciting and enjoyable every day and that’s because of me.”
“Nothing replaces a teacher who can understand and relate to that student,” said Hoyer, who said he was recently in a classroom where no students even looked up from the computer.
“And then they’re in a job interview and they can’t even look you in the eye,” Gardner said.
Strouse said she wanted to see more of an emphasis on vocational learning and Hoyer pointed out that a career in welding could pay $60 to $80 an hour.
“Welders are smart people — they need to know math,” he said.
Hoyer said another aspect to making an effective teacher was building confidence in parents regarding their teaching abilities.
He said this would help parents hold their children to high expectations.
Culturally, Hoyer said Jewish-American families and Asian-American families held their children to the highest standards.
“Their kids know that they have to perform. ... Most cultures know that but they don’t demand it,” he said.