A good teacher with inadequate supplies will still be a good teacher. A poor teacher with all the supplies in the world will still be a poor teacher. The first and most important element in education is an excellent teacher, a teacher who has taken advantage of opportunities for teacher training and who has rounded out training with experience.
However, to answer this question is not equivalent to providing a solution to the problems of school districts. School districts fail for political reasons, not for lack of either teachers or supplies. Candidates for all elective offices routinely promote conversations like this one, diverting the attention of the voters from the failure of school board members to provide real leadership, excellent fiscal management, and most of all, integrity to school districts.
As a society, we should prioritize the availability of excellent teacher training ahead of teaching resources and even buildings. A good building completely stocked with supplies will not educate children. Only well-trained and experienced teachers do that. However, in the U.S, the availability of teacher training is not an issue. There are plenty of teacher training programs, and there are even plenty of teachers. It is a problem that not all of the teachers are actually teaching, but that is a different problem.
A discussion of the relative merit of teacher training or educational supplies is motivated by political candidates who want to confuse people and motivate the electorate to demand more money for education. They do that, because it is easier to say that there needs to be more and better teacher training than to admit that school board members and district administrators misappropriate the funds the electorate so lovingly provides for the education of the children. Poor pay and a combative classroom environment are much bigger factors in so-called “failing schools” than the availability of teacher training.
The political answer to inadequate teacher pay would, of course, be to take more money from the taxpayers for schools, but the real answer is to elect school boards who administer budgets with integrity and do not siphon off millions for personal use rather than enhance teacher salaries and benefits. Neither politicians nor teachers can address the societal malaise which populates classrooms with impudent, arrogant and sometimes violent children.
Mr. Wilkison was a remarkable teacher known to this writer. He taught physical science without any textbook and with only the bare minimum of classroom supplies. He made a lot of the supplies using a Bunsen burner and glass tubing, or he used materials at hand, such as rocks, chalk and string. His students had to pay attention and take notes furiously, because there were no Cliff notes for this class. They learned what science is, how to do research, the difference between the scientific method and political agendas, and most of all, they learned to think and to avoid jumping to conclusions. These are skills that have great value in life at large, not just in a laboratory.
A good teacher will certainly be able to do many wonderful things with plenty of supplies and a lovely classroom, but if one had to choose between a poor teacher with all the extras and a good teacher on a log in the woods, the choice would be for the good teacher. A good teacher will not only deliver the best educational opportunities to students, but will also appropriate the most from any teacher training opportunities.
This is the answer to the question the politicians are asking us. But as citizens and voters who care about education, we need to be ignoring this question. Instead of following the lead of candidates who want us to put more money in their hands in the guise of increasing taxes to support education, voters should be asking the politicians, “What did you do with the money we gave you last year?”