Secretary of Education Discussion 3: Prepared and Qualified Teachers

Carol Broos is one of twelve teachers who have been invited to participate in a round table discussion concerning the direction of education with the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Jan 21. She was sent five questions in preparation for the meeting. This is the third one:

How should the new administration respond to the nation’s need for better prepared and more qualified teachers?

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I too am a NBPTS (National Board for Professional Standards) member and have been since 2003. I found the application process and portfolio development a very worthwhile experience. The entire process required extensive reflection with the goal to developing, establishing and reinforcing best practice. This was a worthwhile endeavor and the time involved was extensive.
I have been a member of the School Board in my town for 24 years and have been a teacher for over 30 years.
Problems in education- insufficient time
1. time to spend on reflection.
2. Teaching is the only profession that does not allow for time for colleagial dialogue. It is a big deal if and when teachers have 1-2 workshop day every year to plan curriculum and there is of course no time to discuss issues before they become problems.
3. Profession is dictated by non-professionals. It is assumes that everyone can teach and that is just not the case. We do not allow the medical profession to be micromanaged by the patient, we do not allow the legal profession to be micromanaged by the client. Teaching is the only profession where laws and policies are established with no input from those who are actually teaching, with no dialogue as to the impact upon the daily lives of teachers and students.
(take the current emphasis placed upon testing-paper/pencil testing is the least meaningful way of establishing what a student knows.)

How many paper/pencil tests do adults take in their daily lives. Do paper/pencil tests make one a better accountant, teacher, doctor, lawyer, snow plow operator, parent and so on? The only reason for paper/pencil tests is they are easy and less expensive to administer, correct, and keep track of. They do not measure what is important-application and generalizing of knowledge to become a better citizen, a more productive worker and a better parent.

Until sufficient time for dialogue, mentoring, and problem solving is allowed and teaching is given the importance it deserves, there will be little chance for improvement.
Thanks for the opportunity to respond.
Dot Rhodes
Part of this shortage may be in part due to a PR problem. Much of the press schools receive focuses on the negatives rather than on all of the great things students are doing in schools today. Placing emphasis on these successes, along with support for salaries and benefits that are similar to other professionals (with similar education) can inspire talented individuals to consider the profession.
I had just about decided to become a teacher upon my return to the USA when I saw that the requirements for changing to teaching mid-career were so inflexible, that even though I hold a Master's degree in my field and have years of postgraduate study, and have been a guest lecturer at foreign universities, I'd have to go back and get another whole degree to be able to teach kindergarten here. I'm not willing to grind through another two years at college.

Another thing that discouraged me is that I could pass all the certification exams. I took a sample test in physics and passed it despite the fact that my only acquaintance with physics comes from two weeks' instruction in elementary physics in the eighth grade and having briefly dated two physicists while they were in graduate school. I'm confident that I could pass the requirements for teaching without attending years of classes but there's no possible way for me to take the exams unless I'm enrolled in a program and have a bar code to take the exams. Then I look on the news and see teachers who have failed to pass their certification exams, some of them having taken them more than fifty times.

I opened my own business and teach to my own specifications, at my own hours, at a rate of pay that I chose, and I have no authority to report to other than the parents or students themselves. I can't understand why anyone with any sense would agree to jump through all these hoops mid-career. I think the question to ask is, what incentives would a person like myself need to agree to teach in school--and slogging through all these interminable requirements is just not practical at my stage of life. I can't afford to be without salary or only part-time salary for the years it would take to fulfill arbitrary requirements, nor do I have the patience at this stage of my life to enroll in a program just to be able to take some tests, and why would I accept less money than I can charge privately to spend ages of my time filling out reports and all the other things teachers are required to do?

And it's not just me. Can you imagine a wealthy and successful entrepreneur doing all this in order to teach a basic business class when he's been mentoring other business people for decades? Or a NASA scientist? If we want the brightest and best teaching our children, we need to reform the process by which mid-career people, who have already proven their skills, become teachers.

P.S. I applied to teach "Life Development" classes in an alternative certification program, with this on my transcript: Child Development, Adolescent Psychology, Adult Psychology, Psychology of Sexual Behaviour, and Geriatric Psychology. My qualifications considered inadequate because my courses were prefaced with PSY rather than EDU, even though my courses were far more in-depth than those taught in the education department, and I know this because I compared the textbooks in use at each time for a period of twelve years.
Money and quality of life. A psychologist once said to me, "Teaching is not a career, it is a lifestyle." The demands on teachers have always been high, but they are now to the breaking point, with test scores often the sole measure of a teacher's skill, despite the many other factors that exist. At the same time, real income is decreasing because of larger health insurance premiums and medical deductibles, as well as increased costs such as food and fuel, which are not even factored into the Consumer Price Index, on which many COLAs are based. I have known many well-qualified people who chose other careers to a great extent because they knew it is almost impossible to support a family on a teacher's salary. The "only working 9 months" argument is inaccurate, since most teachers use summer to further their education (while paying extremely high tuition!) and many take on part time jobs during the summer to make ends meet. While I have found education to be an extremely rewarding career emotionally, I know that it has taken its toll on my family financially and socially, and I am extremely hesitant to encourage young people to choose this path.
Once again, people improve when valued. Professional learning communities and networks will do wonders for encouraging teachers to improve. Positive environments provide the path through which collaboration for improvement occur. When those who want to improve share their strategies with those who are reticent, every one still moves forward. How do you meet the need? Build the capacity and time for professional learning communities; not only will teaching and learning improve, but more people will want to become teachers. With such a focused and trusting learning environment for teachers and students, wouldn't you want to join the journey?

At great risk of naivety-Partly because Im a new teacher,partly because I'll be in Voc Ed partly my personal bent/experiences-is why Im thinking that Id like to pass on the skills that enable me to watch with interest the world around me and to contribute in meaningful ways to grasp the shifts in social and economic and business and environment etc.To create a dialogue where I have a place and therefore my students too can create that dialogue. Its like I can pass on the skills to mapping the tides... social/cultural and jobs in particular.

Guiding how to observe multiple strands of divergent opinion/trades/fashions and make sense of them-create something new.
Thinking skills, feeling skills, relations with others skills,the rest can just follow! Preferably grab the topics they love and just use those as the basis for research, inquiry, design. Make everything transferable, find the interests, find the links,find the people.

Social media means students can now connect with the SOURCE! Not textbooks but the authors themselves and their mentors...Information gathering/editing/remixing/multimedia etc

We need to be teaching the fundamentals of being human and recent research on mind/emotion/body intelligence etc. It doesn't matter which job/subject if we have the basics we/our students can apply ourselves to anything and invent new work.Isnt that what employers are crying out for now? Emotional Intelligence, depth, creativity, flexibility,think for yourselfers? Lets go there!

I especially feel that entrepreneurial education is paramount in the work ready mix.

Fundamentally children and youth should be at the top of our social apex.(triad perhaps of Earth/Spiritual realm/Children) Everyone closest to them next in the apex...parents and teachers waay up there! 'Industry' should be at the bottom supporting holding everyone up...I'm not at all surprised (every)things are in crisis. Its completely downsideup!
Oh blah Ive said too much but education is soo (dis)connected!
I am with you on all of what you said :) Doesn't matter if you are new or old if you found your purpose everybody is happy :)
The kids must be at the top, they didn't have a say in being brought here, and the society owes them everything: good food, warm clothes, safe shelter, and great education. And, yes, great education means skills and knowledge they can use in their adult lives. I am not sure that the school system serves that purpose right now.
I agree with your general sentiments, Sarah,
But are you really saying that all students are going to be global leaders? (Or are potentially so?) Is the goal of education to produce leaders?
And it's certainly true that time is a killer. But if my arithmetic is still robust, a longer school day and a longer school year still comes out of my personal/family/community time (like, I don't have that time any more!)

So how can the new brooms concentrate on the 'main thing'. I believe it was an army precept "The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing."? If teachers are to teach, what loads are they carrying which stop that? What, of those loads should be carried? Who, properly,should be carrying them? And how do we get rid of the rest?
I totally agree with Sarah that we need a longer school day and more school days in a year in order to teacher everything we need to teach I teach Pre-K. I not only have to teach the curriculum, I have to teach the children how to blow their noses, wash their hands, line up, play safe, work together, discipline, discipline and more dscipline. I teach in on of the best schools in the country, and I still have children who come to school that have not been read to, cannot dress and feed themselves and cannot put on their own coat. Needless to say, I really need more time, not to mention that they need at least an hour outdoors each day (our system only allows 30 minutes a day max.) Let's add some time to our days which would help with the latchkey population, problems after school, and give children what they need, more breaks during the day so that they can think. Teachers also need more time to plan - I am in my forth year of teaching and I have yet to use the same lesson plan twice, unlike some of my friends. I spend at least a half of my day on the weekend working on lesson plans which includes content standards that no one every looks at. In my system, I even have to list the music and movement songs I will be using each day.
I agree with Lucy Grey however in New York we don't have the infrastructure to support technology properly. We couldn't even watch the inauguration due to congestion and bandwidth. This cabinet must look at the infrastructure throughout the country and provide the oh so important dollars needed to upgrade our schools and support free hot spots.
Carol, forgive the cross posting, I posted on your wiki, but I wanted to join the conversation here at Future of Education.

The short and sweet: Recommendations in this post are:

1) Foster disruptive innovation by studying best practices at Intel, Google and other companies
2) Create a supportive administrative infrastructure similar to Finland, the top educational system in the world.

I like the topic posted by Scott McLeod on his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant: " to lead in an era of disruptive innovation." It is well worth the read for anyone interested in staying up-to-date one how technological innovation can be managed. For me it is the most relevant question for Mr. Duncan.

We undoubtedly live in an age of disruptive innovation when human knowledge is creating powerful new tools that will supplant the old. Our educational system has been obsolete for decades. This has required companies to spend significant funds on training their workers to meet their needs. Now with open-source learning systems schools are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

So what is the solution? I happen to be fond of learning from the examples of best practices of educational systems throughout the world. In my book, the Finnish sytem is arguably the best with impressive wins on major international comparative tests of student learning. And what was the secret of their success? Build the system ground up by supporting teachers! The role of administrators was turned upside down. Administrators in Finland are support personnel, not channels to administer top-down mandates. Their role is to facilitate and provide whatever a teacher needs in the classroom.

Imagine no more district level blocking of Web 2.0 tools, but a administration that treats a teacher as an adult-professional capable of selecting any Web 2.0 tool or multimedia appropriate for the lesson. Contrast that to an administrator that requires each teacher to fill out paperwork for each video they download or Web 2.0 tool they use. The current system stifles teacher-led innovation.

In exponential times, the only system that has a hope of keeping up is one that empowers the majority of players. That means allowing both teachers and their students to create, innovate and lead the system into the 21st century.

So Arne, support us, let us blossom and remove the barriers to innovation that a top-down system imposes. Read all you can about the innovation society and learning organizations and model the educational system based on the principles firmly demonstrated by google, mozilla and other IT companies that are leading us all into the future.

Thanks for listening!

Gregory Louie

Biotechnolgy Teacher

Gravelly Hill Middle School


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