Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

Huffington Post reported on a Superintendent’s Summit this past May. The writer proposes 3 ideas that would change our schools. The first is one I am very much a fan of – changing teacher education programs.

Ok, that is not exactly what he says, he says there is a paradigm where the gifted students have all the resources and great teachers and the new teachers usually start with the most challenging students and fewest resources and support.

New teachers should first start with gifted students and the best-behaved classes in order to prepare for more challenging classrooms. Teaching the gifted students should not be a reward that educators are able to cash-in after many years of service, but rather the education system must change to put the best teachers where they are needed most.

How does he propose that would occur? In union run states it’s near impossible to fire a teacher, let alone reassign veteran teachers to underperforming students and slide the new teachers in. Even in states like GA where there are no unions, the teacher step system and nepotism rule over the system to the point where the writer’s suggestion is virtually impossible to implement.

Secondly, I am not sure that working with gifted, well behaved students would prepare a teacher to work with challenging students. There are certain mindsets, behavior management strategies, educational learning practices, patience and caring for EVERY student that a teacher must possess to succeed in challenging classrooms. Those are not skills learned in teacher education and not gained working with well behaved students. The right teacher education program and the right learning experiences through student teaching must be obtained at a minimum.

I would also argue that sending veteran teachers to work with challenging classrooms proves part of my point. They may not have gained those skills necessary to manage the behavior of a challenging classroom and if they believe they have, they may operate like a prison or the military instead of instilling hope and opportunity to our students. This is also because the description of challenging classrooms has evolved over time to a much different environment than any of our veterans teachers ever grew up with. School is much different than when I attended and I am only 30 years old.

Also, who says those veteran teachers will even agree to teach those students? They may retire or quit if they are forced out of their cozy advanced students classes. I really don’t see logistically or practically how this would work.

Right now, teacher education programs are short maybe 30 credits, about one year. Student teaching programs run from a couple of weeks, to a 6 month stint, sometimes one year (first time I saw this was Clark University in Worcester, MA). While they have classes on pedagogy, they rarely cover psychological, social-emotional skills or education learning disorders. My ability as a school counselor to assist students and teachers with student learning is derived from my ability to understand psychology first and implementation of curriculum second. Then a teacher can come from a place of understanding “why” a child isn’t learning and not just managing their behavior to gain compliance on school work.

I recently wrote about how we need to have the right teachers in the right place at the right time. I am hopeful that this was the essence of his statement. Also maybe we could have the student teaching performed at challenging schools, so where ever a new teachers teaches he/she may have some of the experience they need. But, with so many ineffective teachers in challenging schools, I am not sure I want our student teachers learning from those teachers either.

 

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Not the right teacher, in the right place, at the right time

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

I’ve been thinking about this alot lately. Teachers become extremely defensive whenever we try to talk about effectiveness. But the reality is that our kids need to learn and be in the best environment to do so. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are an in effective teacher all the time everywhere – it doesn’t mean that you didn’t earn your degree and learn how to be a teacher – it just means that you are not the right teacher, in the right place, at the right time.

I remember a friend of mine who is a teacher at a charter school here in Atlanta and she mentioned how she is going to be taking over some classes for a teacher who is leaving. I was amazed! Their school actually has attentive students (though not for lack of effort but into it), flexible curriculum, basically a teacher’s dream compared to traditional public school settings. Yet, she still didn’t feel comfortable in that setting. She apparently needed an even more controlled, smarter, more motivated group of kids to teach. The upside is that she knows that, and she seeks it out.

Perhaps we go too far when we say “ineffective teacher” because surely there is a classroom environment that this teacher would thrive in. But we all have to be willing to acknowledge when a situation is not one that the teacher or the students thrive in. There may not be enough positions available in all the schools with attentive and engaged students for all the teachers who best work in that environment. But that does not mean that the students who are harder to teach should suffer with a mismatched teacher.

Many of the teachers who would thrive in a more controlled classroom are simply less equipped to teach today’s students. a decade or two ago we all lived in a different environment. Kids were simply easier to teach in those days. Today’s teachers need to be able to compensate for the social emotional disadvantages our poorest children suffer from. They need to have stellar classroom management skills – and not the bossy, military style threaten and yell style, but a compassionate and firm style that teaches classroom standards without shredding students of their dignity with punishment and yelling.

Then there is the “real” reason we have a problem. I would bet that a majority of teachers don’t have a second career lined up. I’m willing to bet there are few immediate opportunities available to teachers if they are not teaching. Perhaps in part to the subpar education they themselves earned. When a teacher is challenged about their role as a teacher, what do you think is a pretty common reaction? Their own self interest. The school district has a responsibility to the students first and foremost. But the teacher may have a responsibility to his or her family over the students in his/her class. If a teacher has a choice between putting the classes first or putting their own family first…..I’ll bet the family comes first most of the time. Therefore, even if it is in the best interest of the students to have a different teacher, their teacher will stay for the paycheck. For their family.

No matter how hard it is to do, the school district has a responsibility to the students first and teachers second. If that means letting some teachers go and hiring teachers that are more adequately prepared to manage a classroom today, then it needs to be done. The school district can’t weigh the needs of the teacher to support his/her family over the needs of students.

You know what is on its last legs? Status quo education

My search to find articles to refute has bound upon a plentiful pile at “Living in Dialogue” blog.

Here goes Anthony Cody, yet again…

There is growing evidence that the corporate-sponsored education reform project is on its last legs. The crazy patchwork of half-assed solutions on offer for the past decade have one by one failed to deliver, and one by one they are falling. Can the edifice survive once its pillars of support have crumbled?

No. You may wish it so. But it is not true. Saying it doesn’t make it true. But you know what is on its last legs? Status quo education that your folks have been defending for so long, that is still failing children nation-wide.

Teach For America: This project had as its central premise the idea that what was wrong with the teaching profession was that not enough really smart people were becoming teachers. So we will recruit some high flyers and fill the gaps in high needs schools. And because these folks are sooo smart, they do not need the year or two of preparation that regular old teachers needed – they could learn to crunch data, manage a class and prepare for tests in just five weeks. And if they leave after a couple of years, that’s ok too. They can transform education as the next generation of leaders and policymakers, because they will have brains that classroom experience, and TFA’s no excuses philosophy to guide them.

As Cody continues with his selective history, I pulled this off the TFA website:

Wendy Kopp proposed the idea for Teach For America in her Princeton University undergraduate thesis in 1989.  In 1990, a charter corps of 500 committed recent college graduates joined Teach For America and began fueling the movement to eliminate educational inequity.  Since then, nearly 33,000 participants have reached more than 3 million children nationwide during their two-year teaching commitments. They have sustained their commitment as alumni, working within education and across all sectors to help ensure that children growing up in low-income communities get an excellent education.

Given the magnitude of the educational inequity, we have aggressively worked to grow and deepen our impact.  Our corps members and alumni have helped accelerate the pace of change as teachers, principals, elected officials, social entrepreneurs, and leaders in all fields.  Alongside many others, they have proven that classrooms, schools and now whole communities can transform the life trajectories of all students, regardless of background.

We are energized by the progress we have made over the past 22 years and more hopeful than ever before that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

From this excerpt, I can see that TFA was started to commit recent college graduates who believed in eliminating educational equity to serve as teachers in low income communities. TFA is working the make sure that poverty doesn’t write  a child’s future but that their education does. But because the union movement and it’s friends like Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody are just now trying to tackle poverty, they can’t admit that anyone else is, because it takes away from the success they can produce. How selfish. That doesn’t sound like its about kids. Sounds like it is about adults.

What is really the difference between a recent college graduate who took 30 more credits in education and a TFA teacher? Only the quality of their instruction. We already know there is a movement to transform schools of education because the teaching profession is lacking a true leader in that field. So, a lackluster 30 credits (which split up over a couple days a week for a couple of hours a day over two semesters) or 5 weeks of intensive training? Sounds like they could be pretty equal to me.

But this year TFA is hitting some serious headwinds. They are finding that recruitment has dropped for some reason, and the organization is even closing its New York training instituteoffice. Perhaps students have been finding out some of the problems with the program, discovering in advance that five weeks is not adequate preparation for the challenge of teaching in a challenging school. Perhaps potential recruits have encountered TFA alums sharing their experiences, or even some of those organizing to resist the program. And word may have leaked out that TFA is not the best vehicle for those concerned with social justice – given that corps members are sometimes being used to replace veteran teachers.

Ok Cody, where is your data, your research to support the crumbling? So what they are closing an office and there are fewer applicants. Those statements say nothing about the quality of the work TFA teachers do, or the success they have with their students. Where is your data proving that students with a TFA teacher perform worse than traditional public school teacher taught students? Unless you can back your statements up with some data, you are just crying wolf.

Since you mentioned veteran teachers….Some are very good. Many are not – either they haven’t kept up with the times, their classroom discipline/management style doesn’t mesh with today’s youth, they haven’t had a professional, thorough evaluation to determine where their professional development needs are (the subsequently they did not receive professional development to meet their needs, which not their fault, but a reality), they won’t learn new education strategies, or the worst, they are just collecting a paycheck and passing out worksheets all day long.

This may not be a majority of teachers – BUT THEY DO EXIST!! and every single moment a student spends with these ineffective teachers is a wasted moment that the child is expecting to receive a quality education and simply is not. Children, parents and the community expect and are paying for high quality education. When are kids aren’t receiving a quality education we are all wasting our money, might as well be flushing it down the toilet. Or, Like in DeKalb County, GA where I live, as long as all the friends and family have a high paying job at the school department, all is right with the world.