By Thomas Eng
Erik Squire didn’t just graduate from SMCC with a 4.0 GPA. While going to school at Southern Maine Community College he also worked as president of both Student Senate and SMCC’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, was named student of the year, and earned a full ride scholarship to USM. Erik knows what it takes to succeed, and has been helping others find that ambition for years.
Once Squire got to the University of Southern Maine, he didn’t stop helping students. While working with USM professor Travis Wagner, Squire learned that nearly half of Maine’s students aren’t proficiently literate. This means that a staggering number of students across the state don’t have the skills to analyze the texts they’re reading. Through studying test scores and interviewing education professionals, Erik boiled down this problem to three main ideas.
Squire believes that both teachers and local school districts need to be held to a higher standard. All teachers in the state of Maine take classes in order to ensure their teaching is up to snuff, they should also be required to learn ways to engage students in the material. Requiring teachers to understand what they’re teaching will also ensure their students are receiving the most up-to-date education.
This shortcoming isn’t exclusive to teachers, however. The state of Maine has a standard for what must be taught in order to make sure students have all the tools they need to succeed, but some school districts, especially smaller ones, aren’t following these set of guidelines. So many students are studying more intense topics without the fundamental skills to get the job done. Holding both schools and teachers accountable for not following these standards is essential to making sure every student has what it takes to succeed.
Standardized testing is another big problem. Yes, it’s an efficient way for teachers to find out how their students are doing, but the tests’ infrequency and severity isn’t benefiting anyone. With only one or two massive tests a year, teachers don’t get the results soon enough. By the time they can rework their curriculums to better serve their students, the year has ended. Squire wants to shift to a more formative process, testing students more frequently with less rigorous tests. This way teachers can adjust their plans on the fly and students can get the most out of their time in school.
Standardized testing plays a huge role in the betterment of Maine’s students, but it’s not as functional as it should be. Summative assessments are how schools test students’ comprehension of subjects. This is how teachers decide what needs to be focused on to help students succeed. While these tests do help teachers plan coursework for the future, they don’t help the students they’re currently working with. These tests are infrequent, normally being given twice a year, so teachers don’t have access to this information in time to help their students.
Squire currently works with students on academic probation on the Midcoast Campus. Through his time there he has realized that most of the students he works with have the ability to achieve greatness, but they don’t have the skills to succeed in a self-reliant system. Erik has found that the biggest issue college students have is time management. Whether it’s because of work, personal life, or just sheer lack of engagement, many students have trouble finding time to get work done. Squire heavily encourages the students he works with to meet with the tutors SMCC offers, telling them, “Even 15 or 20 minutes is enough to help.”
The tutoring centers are a great place to get help with any work you’re struggling with, but what if you’re not having problems with the material? What if you’re struggling with staying focused enough to get the work done? The tutoring centers are also great environments where you can be your most productive. The tutors will make sure you’re staying on task and getting your work done.
Time management is an essential skill, both in an academic setting and out in the real world. That’s why Squire encourages students to get their work done, even if they find it tedious and boring. Most students won’t need to know how to complete linear functions in their day-to-day lives, but they will need to know how to keep focused and do a good job, even when the work is tiresome and frustrating.
Next year Squire will be taking what he’s learned at SMCC, both as a student and a faculty member, to Oakland, California, to teach secondary English. He plans to make sure all his students know there’s an adult who cares about them and wants them to succeed. Students can lose hope and think that they’re destined for failure, and in an underfunded school in the heart of Oakland, it’s not tough to understand why. Squire intends to show his students that success isn’t always about getting an A on a paper, but what writing that paper teaches them. He wants students to learn that being disciplined and hard working is the key to success.
Erik Squire is a genuinely compassionate and caring person. He, like no other person I’ve met, sees potential in every student and has the drive to help them achieve greatness. His work with students, during his time as a student himself and as a faculty member, has truly prepared him for his next position across the country. I believe Erik can change the way people think about schooling, and his work in Oakland is just the start.