A pretty interesting personnel battle is brewing between a superintendent and two teachers in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina. Superintendent Thomas Forcella has attempted to transfer two teachers from Chapel Hill High School to two other high schools in the district. The teachers, however, have taken their cases to court, challenging their transfers on the grounds that the superintendent has no cause to move them. Chaper Hill High School is getting a new principal this year, and the superintendent alleges that the transfers were ordered to try to head off dissention/insubordination by those teachers. The teachers argue that nothing of the sort is found in their personnel files, and that the superintendent’s attempt to transfer them is baseless.
Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan said last week that she would make a decision relatively quickly on whether she would grant the teachers a stay until their appeals are heard in a few months. This case has pretty significant implications for school board policy and administrative procedures regarding the involuntary transfer of staff. Superintendents and school board members in North Carolina and across the country should follow this one pretty closely as it unfolds.
As I prepare to facilitate a conversation with my College of Education colleagues tomorrow on the future on teacher and leader preparation, I am spending some time tonight reflecting on what I think we are doing well with educator preparation and where I believe we still have considerable ground to cover. Here are just a few places that I hope our conversation goes to tomorrow:
I would like us to begin to be much more intentional about the students we recruit into teacher preparation programs. I believe greater emphasis in teacher education has recently been placed on being intentional with the selection of students; but I contend that we are missing out on more than a few likely teaching superstars because we do not go after them. The reality is that high ability students usually have options.The teaching profession gets its share of high ability students, but we also get our share of students that couldn’t do much else. That has to change. Preparation programs must begin to target and compete for the high ability, diverse pool of candidates needed to do the demanding job that teaching is.
Next, too many teachers are leaving our programs without a sufficient grasp of the content area that they plan to teach in. This has gone on for quite some time now, with students in elementary schools and in hard-to-staff schools bearing the brunt of this ridiculousness. There is absolutely no excuse for this. Our programs cannot continue to be so lacking in rigor that a candidate finishes a mathematics education degree program in good standing yet does not know mathematics well enough to teach it at a high level. The fact that this scenario is more common than not in some places is reprehensible, and it is a clear indicator that some programs are not worthy of the public’s trust.
Finally, with the occasional exception, neither teacher nor leader preparation programs are doing a particularly good job of preparing educators to teach or to lead in the diverse school and district settings which most of them will work in. The majority of our programs continue to prepare educators to teach Ward and June Cleaver’s children; nevermind the fact that Jerry Mathers who played “The Beaver” in the 50s sitcom probably now has great-grandchildren in school. The US has changed considerably over the last few generations. In most ways US families and children in 2012 are very different than they were generations ago. Teacher and leader preparation programs must embrace these realities and do a better job of preparing students for the settings that await them.
As we begin another school year, one of the educational leadership and policy areas that I hope we can begin to make some progress on is creating career-ladders for teachers. There is consensus in the research literature that the classroom teacher is THE most important school-level factor for impacting student learning. Leadership is extremely important, but the relationship between leadership and student learning is an indirect one. Classroom teachers’ impact on student learning is direct and it cannot be overstated.
With that said, one of the issues that we face in education is keeping highly effective teachers in classrooms. This is difficult for a variety of reasons, including community variables, income, working conditions, etc. Attracting high quality teachers into teaching is a challenge, and keeping them there can pose a challenge as well. It is no secret that a significant number of our teachers leave the profession completely. Neither is it a secret that some of our most capably teachers are attracted to higher-paying, higher-status positions in administration. As I said previously and as you will hear me say over and over again, our schools need good leaders; but possibly even more important, our schools need really good teachers in classrooms.
Educational leaders and policymakers will have to begin to wrap their heads around possibilites for building career ladders for our most capable teachers that do not take them out of classrooms completely. A highly effective teacher should not feel like he or she has to move out of the classroom to move up the career ladder in education. As it currently stands in many school districts, a first year teacher has the same job description, responsibilities, and expectations as a 20-year veteran master teacher. The emphasis in some of our states and districts on the development of teacher leaders gets at some of the policy possibilities for teacher career-ladders, but I believe that at this point we are only scratching the surface. It’s time to move this conversation forward.