articles, opinions, and research about teaching and learning

Teachers Forum
October, 2000

An Interview with
Mary Futrell

Mary Futrell

Mary Futrell serves as the dean of the Graduate School
of Education and Human Development
at The George Washington University in the USA.

This interview is part of our celebration of World Teachers' Day.
Read a Joint Message from leaders of UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, and UNDP.

Question: As President of Education International what do you see are the main issues facing teachers, especially those in developing countries?

Answer: When I reflect on the main issues facing teachers I think that privatisation is one of them. In developing and industrialised countries, funding which would usually be channelled into government schools is given to set up private schools, often under the guise of voucher systems. Such schools are usually not accessible to those who are poor and unable to afford fees. Further, often admissions priority is given to boys, not girls, especially if there is a shortage of space.

Resources is another key issue facing teachers and by this I mean an adequate supply of qualified, trained teachers. We have aging teacher populations around the world. Increasingly young people are not entering teaching as a career, or they leave because they are facing overwhelming class sizes of 80-100 children, or they are not treated as professionals. Lack of resources in the form of overcrowded classrooms, inadequate supplies of instructional materials, and low salaries make teachers’ lives very difficult. Society expects much of its teachers, but often fails to provide the resources needed to meet those expectations. Time is another resource which teachers lack: time to teach, to plan, and time to meet with other colleagues to discuss issues of teaching and learning. Many teachers are teaching more than one shift and are just plain exhausted. Another resource which is often lacking in developing countries is an actual place called "school" with seats, desks, chalkboards, access to new technologies, and adequate supplies of textbooks and other instructional materials.

Standardisation of curricula which is occurring in many countries, is also an issue cited by teachers. Standards are often imposed without consideration of the impact on the curriculum and without adequate professional development opportunities for teachers as to how to implement them.

Q: What are the best ways, in your opinion, that governments can assist teachers to support children's learning?

A: When I think about governments, I think about them at local, state and national levels, and for any level of government I say ‘learn to talk with teachers to find out what are their concerns’. Often governments talk with everyone else but teachers when deciding what teachers need to do their jobs more effectively.

Governments have to ensure that teachers have resources: realistic class sizes, textbooks for every child, and a decent living wage for school personnel. In many countries wages arrive late or not at all, or when they do arrive they are so inadequate that they have to be supplemented by work beyond teaching. Teachers can’t devote the time and energy that is needed to assure quality teaching if they are forced to work a second or third job in order to survive, to support their families.

Governments also need to work more closely, to build partnerships with teachers and parents so that all three groups contribute to the work of more effective quality schooling for all children.

Q: In your opinion, what makes a good teacher?

  • A good teacher is well versed in the content to be taught and has a repertoire of pedagogical skills to address the needs of a diverse school population.
  • A good teacher cares for children so that every child is well taught.
  • A good teacher believes in children and knows how to work with them, ensuring that they learn and want to learn.
  • A good teacher sets high standards for children’s learning and then works with children to achieve even higher levels of academic success.
  • A good teacher involves parents and recognizes the critical role of parents in children’s learning.
  • A good teacher collaborates with other teachers to ensure that children learn.
  • A good teacher sets high standards for him/herself and is constantly reflecting on how they teach and ways to improve his/her teaching skills.

Q: Can you tell us how Education International supports the work of teachers around the world?

A: Education International works with NGOs and other development agencies at the international level, and with member organisations at the national level in caring and advocating for educators and children everywhere. For example we are working with teachers in Kosovo to help restore the education system. During the Sierra Leone war, EI visited refugee camps in Guinea, Gabon and Liberia to identify and register Sierra Leone teachers. EI also provided school uniforms, some basic teaching equipment and learning materials to help the teachers and children in the refugee camps.

We provide professional development for teachers, especially in developing countries where funds for professional development are scarce. We raise money for textbooks, and advocate for better working conditions for teachers. Most importantly, believe education is a seamless web, starting with the work of parents in supporting children’s learning, on through pre-school and primary and secondary school and up through college and university. The interrelatedness and interdependence of each phase of education is critical. All need well qualified and highly motivated teachers.

Would you like to read other interviews with practising teachers?

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Last revised October 1, 2000
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