How and why and what we are teaching
The week of May 4-10 has been designated Teacher Appreciation Week by the National PTA, and it includes the May 4 birthday of Horace Mann, father of American public education, and National Teacher Day on May 6. In honor of these events, help students learn more about your profession.
Teaching in the Old World
Teachers impart skills or information to students, and this activity has helped us survive and evolve. Yet teaching as a profession emerged only recently.
Teaching in ancient Indian, Chinese, Egyptian and Judean cultures was performed by priests or prophets. Ancient Greeks saw the value of educating children, and the wealthiest added teachers to their households. Often these teachers were slaves from conquered states, a tradition the Romans continued. In fact, the word "pedagogue" is derived from the Greek word for slave.
During the 5th through 15th centuries in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church took responsibility for teaching, most of which occurred in monasteries and specially designated learning centers. Later, as more Europeans became interested in educating children, education reformers founded model schools for youth and trained new teachers to advance their theories and methods.
Teaching in America
Soon after the American Revolution, our founders argued education was essential for our nation's survival and prosperity. Thomas Jefferson became the first American leader to propose a publicly supported system of free schools for all persons.
However an organized system did not exist until the 1840s. Education reformers like Horace Mann and Henry Barnard, working in Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively, helped create statewide common-school systems. Mann also sought support for improved teacher training and pay.
Yet not until the late 20th century did teaching begin to attain professional status in the U.S. Until then, emphasis was on teachers with nurturing skills rather than instructional expertise. However, a 1983 report by the U.S. Department of Education, A Nation at Risk, introduced a new era of educational reform.
The report called for rigorous standards of teacher preparation, while acknowledging new challenges for U.S. teachers from more diverse student populations and more complex teaching technologies. A 1996 education department report cited additional barriers to improved teacher training, including: inadequate teacher education programs; poor teacher recruiting efforts, especially in math and science; poor administrative practices such as placing new teachers in the most demanding assignments; and lack of rewards for teachers with outstanding skills and performance.
In January 2002, President Bush signed into law the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The plan sets high goals for schools and focuses on teachers' professional development to achieve them. States are currently developing plans to implement NCLB by the July 2003 deadline. Implementing these plans and meeting the goals represent new challenges for teachers.
At the same time, teachers continue to face the increased poverty, family instability and immigration that have created our highly diverse student body. Teachers daily face overcrowded classrooms, run-down buildings, malnutrition and illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and inadequate funding from state and federal sources.
Yet despite these challenges, dedicated teachers across the country work daily to help youth learn. And American schools continue to be a model to other nations as more countries recognize the relationship between stable government, economic development and effective schooling.
The following resources can help illuminate more clearly the work you do.