Emerging Issues Forum: Teachers and the Great Economic Debate
It was a two-day message of hope; a message of engagement; a message of equity.

Photo by Steve Exum and courtesy of the Institute for Emerging Issues

Photo by Steve Exum and courtesy of the Institute for Emerging Issues

By Bruce Middleton, guest blogger for SMT Center

Can we again provide a world-class education for the students of North Carolina? If so, what challenges do we face and how will we overcome them? Are we on the downward slide in our ability to recruit and retain quality teachers? How does the success of our state economic system depend on our quality of public education?

These were the complex questions being examined at the 29th annual Emerging Issues Forum: Teachers and the Great Economic Debate. The mission was to examine the current status of public education in North Carolina, hear success stories from places where schools excel and propose solutions that will return North Carolina to its prominent position as a leader in public education.

The window into successful public education was provided by Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation, who provided examples of what has worked over the past decade to propel Finland into the position of world leader in K-12 schooling. Among the most important items in a seemingly short and obvious list was early childhood support in the form of quality Pre-K for all children and fewer and focused standards for learning from kindergarten to graduation. Not to be missed was the care that was taken in teacher selection, preparation and compensation as a key factor in managing quality instruction.

The day continued with a focus on building a better pipeline for recruiting, retaining and supporting teachers as a foundation for quality schools and student success.  Invited presenters provided data about the value that quality teachers bring to education along with programs that promote the development and retention of quality teachers. Participants were asked brainstorm solutions to address the areas of the pipeline that were most important. More than 1200 attendees – teachers, administrators, policy makes, and business representatives – moved to small group sessions to discuss and promote ideas that would attract and support world class teachers.

The conference drew to a close with an incredible example of what quality teaching might look like as Ron Clark, an ECU graduate and former North Carolina teacher, engaged the crowd with an enthusiastic message about how he chooses to interacts with students to inspire learning. The participants were left with the knowledge that teachers like Ron can be found across our state but are dwindling in number as support systems are failing and teachers are leaving the profession. And then the question we always struggle with: Where will we find and how will we support the Ron Clarks that are entering the field of teaching in fewer numbers?

As he does so well, former governor Jim Hunt ended the day by reminding us that we have been in an intense 2 day session focused on learning – our learning. With 97 out of 100 counties represented we were charged with taking back the message and sharing with others across the state of North Carolina. That, he said, is how the people can promote understanding, which is lacking and change, which is so badly needed.

The message? Hope, engagement and equity in our quest to again become the national leader in public education!

To find out more and become part of this important discussion for all North Carolinian’s visit Emerging Issues Forum: Teachers and the Great Economic Debate.