News and Tribune


April 28, 2014

CUMMINS: The importance of effective human beings

— How effective are teachers, preachers, parents, doctors, nerds, husbands and insignificant others? How about neighbors, psychologists, writers and politicians? And don’t forget the effectiveness of the family usually based upon the amount and severity of internal squabbles. An ineffective family is never together.

“Your pay will become effective when you become effective.” If you’re sleeping on the job, that will wake you up. You’re either effective or ineffective, as measured by whom or what? Those in the medical profession better be effective. You’re under the knife and hear the doctor say, “Whups.” The very best surgeons work on a kind of merit pay as do coaches based on wins and professional athletes based on running, jumping, hitting or throwing a ball. Take a look at their pay, and it’ll make you sick. Or, invent Facebook and buy Crimea. But there’s little you can do about American values, except maybe run for office.  

Politicians seem to become ineffective based on their length of service in office. Success and longevity depend on getting votes anyway you can, but remember money wins. Let’s face it the current great American value is currency. Are preachers judged by the number of souls they save? To judge a nerd, you must enter a different world, but the military is easy to evaluate, based on how effectively they kill. Grandmothers are ineffective; they coddle too much. Grandfathers would be effective if anybody listened to them. They sit on a pedestal observing societal degradation until dozing off and dying off.

If you think you’ve got it bad, teachers get it from all sides, the public and the governments. Congress and governors are the worst. They think they know what’s best for America, especially health care and education. The political factions bitterly fought over most everything since agreeing to defend our country in World War II. It was the last time America united except after 9/11, which lasted about three months.

The president of the United States has the most difficult job of all. The military has the most stressful with teachers second. Lock yourself in a closet each day with 30, 6 or 16-year olds. Legislators have it the easiest, because they already know so much. Few know how to teach, but that’s not the point. States are determining the effectiveness of each teacher by giving students 30 tests. They glance at the scores and base effectiveness on a cutoff point. If Johnny is not at grade level, his teacher is ineffective, but effectiveness depends on where you teach. On Plush Boulevard students are well nourished in most all aspects, but forget Poverty Place where malnutrition affects the body and the brain. Getting those students, who survive on hot dogs and TV, inside a school 75 percent of the time is a victory. If states want to improve education, do something about inequality and poverty.

Indiana is on a kick to improve student test scores and teacher effectiveness. Test scores improved the past couple of years. Schools and teachers either became more effective, or test companies, operating on the profit motive, designed easier tests. Indiana also grades its schools — A,B,C or bad, bad — based on criteria. What criteria? We’re not sure, but politics had nothing to do with it.  

Having spent 52 years of my life as a student, teacher and administrator inside a school house, I have experience. There were many effective teachers in those schools. They not only taught students subject matter, but they also taught how to be a better human being. What we learn and know is not necessarily effective without attention and effort to become a better individual. Interacting with and inspiring other people is not learned from books.

That’s not my job; my students must learn the basics, nouns, fractions, fractured history. They’re testing me, so I teach to the test. But the real test is does each and every student in my class believe she’s worthy and can make a contribution? There are “miracles” in classrooms. But teaching in today’s world is like Obama teaching Obamacare, but most teachers care or they wouldn’t teach. An effective teacher can be the only stabilizing force in the lives of millions of “our” kids.

Last year, Indiana schools rated about 98 percent of its teachers “effective.” And test scores are up, so let’s dwell on lowering taxes. You wish. When students go home from school, effective teaching, fully supported by the populace and the politicians, will determine if the U. S. remains number one.

— Contact Terry Cummins at


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