2010 Archives

Point Person: Q&A with James Guthrie


The following is from the February 27, 2010, edition of The Dallas Morning News.

James Guthrie
James Guthrie

March 2, 2010

Schools need leaders; that much we know. But are good teachers born or made? And what goes into being a good principal or superintendent? The George W. Bush Institute will tackle these issues Wednesday during its first education symposium. James Guthrie, the institute's senior fellow and director of education policy studies, has thought about this issue throughout his career at Vanderbilt University, the University of California at Berkeley and now Southern Methodist University.

What should parents look for when figuring out whether their child has a good teacher?

The most important thing is to make sure the teacher knows how to teach. That can no longer be assumed. We are learning so much more about instruction. In many areas, we are coming closer to what good instruction looks like.

So, what does it look like?

A good teacher makes it very clear what's supposed to be learned. For example, a third-grade teacher will make it clear that students will study fractions.

Parents also should ask teachers what is to be studied each year. And they should inquire how a teacher plans to teach their child. You want a teacher who has multiple ways to reach a child.

A parent likewise needs to know how well their child has learned their subjects – and if they aren't learning them, what will happen to help them.

This sounds basic. Is this not happening?

The questions are basic and eternal, but now teachers should have answers. In earlier eras, it wasn't so clear. And the answers didn't matter as much. Twenty-five years ago, you could drop out and still get a good job, marry your sweetheart and live the American Dream. That's not so today.

Read the full Q&A.

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