Teacher challenges claim that she plays no role in skill development
JEFFERSON CITY - A local teacher has rejected a recent Brown University study's question of whether teachers play a role in the development of students' on-the-job skills.
The study said it is uncertain whether teachers "are developing students’ abilities to apply knowledge in new contexts, learn on the job, and solve unstructured tasks through a combination of creativity, adaptability, and sustained effort."
The researchers said this uncertainty could be due to teachers' evaluations being based off of student test scores. The evaluations don't account for lessons students aren't being tested on - lessons such as communication and determination.
Stephanie Green has taught first grade at Cedar Hill Elementary School for 17 years, and she said she has always strived to include these lessons in her classroom.
"The more that we work with building relationships and communicating and cooperating with one another, so that we can solve problems, is really more important than the content," Green said. "We really want to make sure that our kids can reflect and analyze information."
Green said she operates her classroom with a combination of textbook material and outside-the-classroom lessons. For math lessons, she set up stations with pretend money for her students to practice addition and subtraction while also learning the different coin quantities. In addition, she said the stations allow students to learn to work together and communicate with each other to solve problems.
"We want to meet the kids where they are, whatever skill set they have, and take that on, making sure we're always connecting that to real-world situations," Green said. "They'll take those skills and transfer them through the years to new situations."
Natalie Wittenberger is a recent Jefferson City High School graduate in her first year at college. She said she was able to transfer the skills she learned from her teachers to her life away from home.
"I gained the art of communication from them. Being able to communicate with adults, as an adult, is kind of a strong suit that I have now. I'm not afraid to do it," Wittenberger said. "I owe that to some of my teachers."
Wittenberger compared her high school music teachers to another parent or aunt in her life. She said sometimes the lessons were tough, but they were often the important ones.
"They taught me that if you don't ask for help, you won't get it," Wittenberger said. "They taught me to buck up and be assertive and stand up for myself. They taught me how life is sometimes a competition, and to push forward."
Green said it's important for teachers to focus on the lessons beyond the textbook for the well-being of their students' future. She said helping to develop on-the-job skills will have a lasting impact on students' lifelong interactions.
"As years go on and we become smarter and learn more about the world, and our knowledge shifts, then they still have the skills in place to take that new learning and grow from it," Green said. "It's not just stagnant information from a textbook. Students have the skills to interact with the world."
Wittenberger said time spent with her teachers greatly improved these interactions in her life, but she and Green acknowledged that not every student has the best experience in a school environment. Green said research helps to find the best ways to communicate these skills to every student.
"These are exciting times in education," Green said. "We learn more and more through research about how children learn, and we're able to better provide experiences that will benefit them."
Green and Wittenberger said it's obvious to them the impact teachers have on developing skills necessary for the world outside of the classroom. They said the textbook material matters, but the underlying lessons are the ones that stick.
"Looking back, it's not the math lessons you remember, but it's the lessons about navigating the world," Green said. "Sometimes it's a scary place."
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