Preparing Teachers in the 21st Century

Dr. Sylvester Perez1

May 6, 2013

Dear SAISD Staff,

First, I want to wish all of our teachers a wonderful Teacher Appreciation Week. I hope it has gotten off to a great start today and that you each and every one of you knows just how much we appreciate all that you do for our students and for this District.

Today, I want to talk about the urgent need to prepare more of you, more teachers, in a shorter time span than at any other time in our nation’s history, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Currently, more than 1,025 teacher education programs across the nation graduate about 1 million potential teacher candidates each year. The nation's schools, however, will need to hire 2 million teachers within the decade to replace those retiring, or to meet the needs of expanding school district enrollments. That means these programs may supply only one-half of the teachers who will be needed!

In Texas alone, student rolls are increasing every year, with enrollment at the state’s schools going up annually by about 80,000 new students. And the mix of students is diverse, including English learners who represent a variety of native languages and a growing number of students with special needs. Consider that in SAISD alone the number of children identified as having autism has tripled since 2007, meaning that not only will we need a steady crop of newly trained teachers in the coming years, but these educators must be well-prepared to handle our diverse student population.

It should be apparent: Higher education and K-12 are intertwined — our destinies are linked. I’m sure we have all witnessed, at one point or another, the finger-pointing that goes on between higher education and K-12 education, with some in higher education blaming K-12 educators for the large number of students who must take remedial or developmental classes once they get to college.

And, sometimes, K-12 educators make the argument that our friends in higher education are the ones who are not doing an adequate job of preparing our teachers for today's students, therefore making it difficult to prepare our students at a high level.

We can’t blame each other when "Johnny can't read." We can all improve our craft while working collaboratively and cooperatively.

For their part, colleges and universities have answered the call for more field-based, real-world opportunities for students. They offer more online options and are working closely with K-12 educators to provide a well-rounded preparation program so first-year teachers have the necessary skill set to be successful.

In SAISD and surrounding districts, K-12 educators are taking responsibility and working collaboratively with outside agencies to ensure that our students are college-aware and ready for that next step through initiatives such as Café College, the Diplomás Project and SA2020.

And, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of attentiveness to new teachers, who quickly find upon entering the classroom that teaching theory is very different and separate from practice. These new educators must perfect the balance of teaching their students what they must learn, without abandoning the art of teaching in the process.

We should take care not to overwhelm new teachers with added responsibilities, assign them to subjects outside of their area or give them the most challenging students. We also want to ensure that they are not simply being assigned a mentor teacher in a perfunctory manner. Rather, let us search and find the best mentors who are carefully selected, trained, and compensated.

These mentors could be the career "lifeline" for new teachers.

Sincerely,
Dr. Sylvester Perez
Interim Superintendent

“Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.” – Albert Schweitzer