The 2010 Missouri Teacher of the Year says she sees some major obstacles for educators in the state, which will take some major adjustments.
Susanne Mitko has been in education for 19 years and the last 6 have been at Bernard Campbell Middle School in Lee’s Summit. She understands budget cuts are necessary right now, but says slashing things like the Parents as Teachers program and summer school, are “penny wise and pound foolish.”
“One of the problems with those cuts would be that they hit students early and they hit students that are struggling,” Mitko said.
Meanwhile, she says as if it wasn’t hard enough to get quality individuals into teaching before, the present lack of job security isn’t going to help.
“The things that we’re seeing that are most frightening, I know I have three friends who are losing jobs this year due to teacher cut-offs, and because of that the class sizes are increasing. We’re all talking about how to adjust our lesson plan so that we can work with 35-40 students in a classroom rather than 25-30,” Mitko said.
Mitko says teachers will have to get creative to continue providing quality education, as the support to do so only shrinks among pressure from administrators to keep costs down.
“Everything comes with an impact on students. Just yesterday I’m looking at a review packet for the year and there’s a timeline in it. I’m thinking, I could have the students draw the timeline and that would save 120 sheets of paper and a copy. Then I realize it would also take another 25 minutes of class time; time when I could be teaching them something that’s going to be a little more relevant to their lives. We’re making these kinds of decisions on a daily basis, but in the end, we’re always going to make them in what’s the best interest of our students and we’re going to try to deal the best we can with those cuts,” Mitko said.
Mitko also stressed that the idea of “teaching to a test” can be a “detriment” to a student’s future but says, unfortunately, it’s a necessary approach. Mitko says she also has some perspective from schools she’s visited in places like Ireland, Japan and China.
“When I was over there I was pulled aside constantly and they said, ‘We know we can teach to a test, but our problem is we know in this new global economy we need thinkers, we need people who are innovators. American schools do that so well, how do you teach that?’ What we’re hoping for is changes in the test and we’re already seeing that come about with the current administration,” Mitko said.
She says she’d prefer to see tests that measure student gains and also ones that hold students accountable for their scores. She says often students have little motivation to do well on a draining, week-long test.
As teacher of the year, Mitko plans to be an advocate for her colleagues for the next year, spending 50 days out of the classroom to travel the state and talk to legislators and education leaders to give a teacher’s perspective.
Mitko was in Washington, DC on April 29th for a ceremony at the White House Rose Garden honoring the ‘Teachers of the Year’ from across the country.