Iowa City school board: Make good teaching a priority

Tom Yates, a 2015 candidate for the Iowa City school board. (Courtesy of Tom Yates)
Tom Yates, a 2015 candidate for the Iowa City school board. (Courtesy of Tom Yates)

One of the most interesting things about running for the Iowa City school board has been the list of topics that constituents want to discuss. These have been, in my experience this summer, the budget, boundaries, buildings, district growth and transparency. These are important topics, and all candidates should be well-versed in them.

The most basic purpose of a school district, however, is to provide what I hope is truly the most important topic people care about, and the one I wish to address here: the education of our kids.

I was a Language Arts teacher at City High for 31 years. My two children gave me the chance to be a parent at west side schools of Iowa City for a total of 17 years. The four years I served as president of the Iowa City Education Association, ending in 2013, led me to every school in the district. The result of those experiences is that I have a pretty good picture of education in Iowa City. Here are my conclusions.

Teaching is the most important element in education and must be a priority. Good teaching happens when a teacher establishes a consistent and fair relationship with her students, a relationship based on mutual responsibility and respect. Even if a student isn’t naturally gifted at, say, math, that student will try if he believes the teacher is interested in his progress and validates his being in her class.

Curriculum is secondary to teaching. It is simply what is taught. Curricular decisions need to come from teacher experience and collaboration, and not from national movements, educational fads or corporations. Technology use should be driven by curriculum, not the reverse.

Assessment is a small portion of the pie. Overemphasis on testing leads to endless harms. Children become — and are treated as — pieces of data. Teachers lose both authority and autonomy in their classrooms. The important relationship between teacher and student is diminished as a result.

When teachers are allowed and encouraged to be the best teachers they can be, the kids will be taken care of. When parents know this, they trust the schools. When the schools are trusted, families become valued stakeholders in their schools.


The Iowa City school board needs to facilitate the actual education of our students. As a board member, I hope to be able to keep that as our top priority.

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