Helping Teachers Help Kids

Curbing the teacher shortage
Photo: Pavel Danilyuk/Pexels
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More and more teachers are poised to leave the classroom. News stories are plentiful, from the Wall Street Journal to local news stations across the country, detailing the real shortage of educational staff that risks leaving classrooms vacant next semester. Reasons given vary from student behavior to the political climate, to difficult problems to solve. However, one common reason for teacher departures, the business of the job, is easier to address.

What if there’s a way that districts and states could do more to help teachers feeling the overwhelming burdens of day-to-day teaching?

High-quality instructional materials (HQIM) may be one way to help. HQIM have been touted as being great for student achievement with little to no additional cost to districts. And for good reason. There is ample evidence to show that HQIM improve the quality of the instruction students receive. 

Too often, districts adopt burdensome materials that are not aligned with state standards or don’t follow the evidence of how students learn. Some districts have opted to create their own curriculum using open education resources. Still, others leave material selection completely in their teachers’ hands, an at times overwhelming task.

In these situations, teachers start their search online, often using Google, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers. Instead of providing extra help or getting home on time, teachers spend hours researching, sourcing materials, and planning lessons. The materials and resources they find are often of low quality, resulting in decreased academic outcomes for students, particularly disadvantaged students. 

Districts and states should work towards ensuring that teachers have HQIM for all subjects they teach. Not only is this better for students, but it will also help pull some of that burden off of teachers. HQIM come with multiple, vetted, aligned resources that provide resources to challenge high-achieving students and support students who are struggling. Without having to find these resources and materials, teachers can spend their time practicing and perfecting delivery of the lessons to students, evaluating student work and data, and tailoring their instruction to the specific needs of the class. 

Tennessee is one state that is leading in getting HQIM into every school, especially in regard to literacy. Over the last several years, the Reading 360 initiative has put strong literacy curricular materials in nearly every classroom in the state. In addition, they have provided elementary and secondary teachers’ training in the science of reading to increase student literacy rates.

I teach second grade in Tennessee. My literacy lessons are often superior to my social studies and science lessons because I have been provided with a high-quality curriculum. I also spend less time and less of my own personal money on resources for literacy because they are already there in our program. State-wide testing results in Tennessee are showing promising signs of accelerated learning, as reported by the state last week. Nearly all grade levels have returned to pre-pandemic levels in reading, and some have even surpassed pre-pandemic levels. 

High quality instructional materials, paired with curriculum-based training and professional development, can go a long way towards keeping teachers in our classrooms. 

Serenity Greeno
Serenity Greeno is an elementary school teacher in Tennessee. She is a Chalkboard Review fellow and can be found on Twitter @serenitygreeno.