How to put teachers in the position to best help their students

After three decades in the classroom, my new goal is to make teaching appealing to future generations and ensure its sustainability for current educators.
Rebecca Palacios
Rebecca Palacios
Rebecca Palacios, PhD, is a 2014 inductee to the National Teachers Hall of Fame and serves as a senior member of Age of Learning’s Curriculum Board. She is the author of "Being Your Child’s Most Important Teacher: A Guide for Families with Young Children."

When I was in the first grade, I began dreaming of becoming a teacher, which, at the time, was an unlikely career path for a Mexican-American girl attending a segregated school in Texas.

Girls like me were far more likely to become secretaries or clerks than educators. But throughout my school-age years, I became more and more determined to meet my personal goals and thanks to my teachers for going above and beyond to help me, I was able to become the first in my family to graduate from college, which set me on my teaching career path.

After three decades in the classroom, my new goal is to make teaching appealing to future generations and ensure its sustainability for current educators. We all have seen and heard about teacher burnout, and it worries me that we are not doing enough to support these professionals. It is time for us to shift our focus toward tangible solutions.

For early childhood educators, the stakes are even higher because of the long-term effect early education has on children’s cognitive and social-emotional development. Research shows that children who attend a high-quality early childhood education program are less likely to be placed in special education, less likely to be retained in a grade and more likely to graduate from high school than peers who did not attend such programs.

When a child enters kindergarten ready for school, that child is nearly twice as likely to master basic skills by age 11 when compared to children who are not school-ready. Children cannot reach these milestones without strong educators in the classroom.

’22 teachers in a classroom of 22 children’

First, we must invest in teacher training. In my current role with the Texas National Board Coalition for Teaching, I work with teachers across Texas providing them coaching, training, and counsel on how to become more effective educators. While even veterans in the field can benefit from continued coaching, teachers with less experience rely on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to guide them through their first few years in the classroom.

Rather than feel like they are on an island during a challenging moment, teachers who have access to these training programs can draw on their experiences with their peers to problem-solve.

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For example, in cohorts across the country, the National Board Certification process draws on the work of each individual candidate to describe, analyze and reflect on their practice and use videos, student work and other materials to meet standards through rubrics set by the NBPTS. Candidates have the support of a professional learning facilitator and a mentor to meet the criteria of four components. These networks of support are available across all states and through the NBPTS.

Second, we need to embrace the transformative power of technology. In the years prior to retiring from teaching in the classroom, I began using an interactive whiteboard with my students. At the time, I was working diligently to find grants for prekindergarten students to have access to cutting-edge technology. My first challenge was lack of funding, but the second was getting the maintenance department to place the whiteboard at a four-year-old’s eye level.

Now? Today’s technology runs laps on those earlier innovations, and through AI and machine learning, education technology solutions blend interactivity, adaptive challenges and real-time feedback to power individualized learning.

For teachers, the assessment tools built into these solutions is the foundation for personalized instruction. The programs available today can continuously assess student performance and provide real-time data to teachers illustrating where there is a knowledge gap and what the student is most ready to learn next.

Look no further than Harlingen, Texas, an underserved community with Title I schools, for an example of how technology is accelerating student outcomes. In 2020, the district implemented My Math Academy, an adaptive, personalized learning solution from Age of Learning, a company where I serve as a curriculum advisor.

Some 98% of pre-K students who used the program ended that year on track in math and kindergarten students demonstrated exceptional growth, with many reaching first and second-grade levels of math comprehension. And educators there have shared that this program solves for learner variability and offers highly personalized instruction, making it seem like there are 22 teachers in a classroom of 22 children.

Finding time for parents

Finally, we must foster an environment where parents, educators and students come together as a close-knit educational family. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started teaching was not involving parents in my work. Over the years, I learned just how valuable family engagement is—it is a cornerstone of effective education, and it significantly influences children’s early learning and development.

With teachers being asked to do more with less, it is challenging for educators to find the time and resources to involve parents in learning. This is another post-retirement goal of mine in my role at ParentCorps, where we engage parents as partners to support the social-emotional well-being of children and unlock the full promise of childhood education.

I was fortunate to have teachers who cared enough about my future that beating incredible odds was possible. Across the country, there are tens of thousands of educators with children in their classrooms who just want an opportunity to reach their full potential. That is only going to be possible if we also put teachers in a position to help their students do just that.


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