Commentary

Securing Individual Education of Students and Teachers Simultaneously

I’ve been reporting on educational developments for more than 65 years, but very seldom have I been as heartened by a discovery as in a September Cleveland Plain Dealer report from Rocky River, Ohio.

In it, Jennifer Norman, the executive director of pupil services for the Rocky River City Schools in northeast Ohio, declares that the schools’ two-teacher model, or co-teaching, now extends district-wide. Writes reporter Barb Galbincea:

“Co-teaching focuses on language arts and math — pairing a learning specialist with a content specialist. That means that while teachers specializing in content are teaching, learning specialists are assessing whether students need extra help.

“Kids in the co-taught classes can run the gamut from those with special needs to gifted students, who may require extra challenges to stay engaged” (“ ‘Co-teaching’ gains ground in Rocky River schools to better serve students,” Galbincea, The Plain Dealer, Sept. 18).

Norman tells The Plain Dealer: “It’s totally needs-based, and it truly is a partnership.”

Co-teaching, she adds, also offers “on-the-spot staff development.”

The Plain Dealer’s Galbincea continues: “The content teacher may learn about better ways to present material so that students understand; the learning specialist can find out more about the subject and what goes on in the classroom.”

The Rocky River revelations went on:

“Norman said another benefit of co-teaching is that students of different abilities wind up in the same classroom, promoting a culture of inclusion and acceptance that can carry through high school.”

Adds Dianna Foley, Rocky River schools’ executive director for communications and technology: “Out in the world, you have to be able to accept and work with people from different backgrounds.”

You may have noticed that none of these co-teachers mention collective standardized tests as a determination of students’ undivided progress.

From Rocky River schools we then hear from a number of the co-teachers. According to intervention specialist Daniea Beard, “the co-teaching model helps all learners and … the teaching partners feed off each other. She said the effort has been challenging, but rewarding — including the chance to see students with special needs turn in strong performances in certain parts of the curriculum.”

Beard tells The Plain Dealer: “The other ‘aha’ moment for me is seeing the social gains.”

Here is a further dimension of co-teaching there: “Kara Truhan … and her partner, Nichole Fach, stay after school one day a week — often into the early evening — to plan together.”

Through co-teaching, Truhan says, “kids aren’t slipping through the cracks. I know we’re helping all of the kids.”

Moreover, Fach “thinks students enjoy the chance to have two teachers.”

What I would very much like to see Rocky River co-teachers focus on, beside language arts and math, is the exciting and very seldom taught history of what it takes to protect our basic identity as a nation — the Constitution — from presidents and Congresses who are too often uninformed of why we are Americans.

I say “exciting” because, as I’ve often reported here, every single time I’ve told stories of the turbulent history of what makes us different from all other countries, students — from elementary school-age to graduate-level — get excited. So much about our quintessential personal rights and freedoms is unknown to these individuals, who are from all sorts of backgrounds.

Now is precisely the time to let our young people try and answer Duke Ellington’s song, What Am I Here For?

Furthermore, John Whitehead, founder of civil liberties watchdog The Rutherford Institute, reminds us why constitutional history is imperative:

“The Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago” (“An Unbearable and Choking Hell: The Loss of Our Freedoms in the Wake of 9/11,” Whitehead, rutherford.org, Sept. 15).

Therefore, there must be additions to our schools’ teaching force — not only content specialists in all subjects of various curriculums and learning specialists for students who require individual attention and participation. There must also be frequent classroom guests who are veterans of the constant civil wars to enable the Constitution — and the reason for America’s existence — to survive.

This expanded teamwork would bring new generations of deeply knowledgeable and combative patriots beyond political party allegiances and into the electorate.

This addition to co-teaching would enliven our classrooms with vigorously educational debates among the students and also among the teachers. This would encourage members of each new generation to get involved in local, state and national governments.

Imagine, for example, if we had such learned student bodies now and President Barack Obama were to appear before one of them. What an education that would be for him and, more importantly, for the next contenders for our presidency!

Members of the media — in all its forms — should also be invited to attend these classes, for they, too, badly need an education in actual Americanism.

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.