Category Archives: Teacher Preparation

Reflecting on Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016

I could not allow Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016 to pass without sharing a brief reflection on just how important teachers have been in my life. Throughout my academic career, from preschool through doctoral studies, I was blessed to have outstanding teachers. At nearly every stage of my academic career, I can identify specific teachers or professors who were incredibly influential in my academic, social, emotional, and spiritual development. And even as an early career teacher, my mentor teachers we so very crucial to my development as an educator. I make no exaggeration when I say I wouldn’t be the professional, the husband, the father, or the citizen I am today without the loving instruction and guidance provided by so many very special teachers. And for what they have given me, I will be eternally grateful.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not also acknowledge that many children across our country and across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, have not enjoyed the benefits of consistent, loving, caring, and effective classroom instruction. And unfortunately, across the U.S. and across Kentucky, having consistently effective classroom instruction is often dependent on where students live. Middle class and affluent students often have access to more highly effective teachers. It’s one of our dirty little education secrets.

So as we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I am more committed than ever before to do everything within my power to move the needle on getting a highly effective teacher in every classroom in Kentucky. Every child in Kentucky, every child in America, deserves to have the opportunities so many of us have had. But that can’t happen until we get our children the teachers they deserve.

The 30-Year Teacher is Gone and She’s Not Coming Back

If colleges of teacher education and school districts are waiting for the flood of young people who intend to spend the next thirty years of their lives as classroom teachers, they will be sorely disappointed. The reality, whether you want to face it or not, is the vast majority aspiring young professionals, even those potentially interested in pursuing careers in education, are not interested in starting a job at 22 that they will do for the rest of their working lives. That proposition just isn’t appealing to the current 18-22 year old. And to be honest, it never particularly appealed to this 35-year old. Most college-age young people are looking for their first job, their start at a career; not knowing what they might be doing in the next 5 years, much less 25 years.

So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what some believe, it’s not the end of the world or the end of the teaching profession. It just means the field has to adapt to this era and be more flexible with how we ensure that children are receiving high quality instruction; even if new models of teaching look significantly different than current ones. And rather than trying to force young people who might be excellent teachers (even if only for the first part of their career) into the mold of the 30-year teacher, colleges of teacher education and school districts should practice embracing the diversity, energy, fresh ideas, and diverse perspectives young professionals can bring to teaching and to the children they will serve. There shouldn’t be the expectation that young people can only go into education if it’s what they intend to do forever. And to be completely honest with you, I don’t want a teaching profession where no one has any interest  in ever doing anything else, or where there are no teachers who have ever done anything other than teach. That time-warped conceptualization of the profession in part contributes to the current instructional and leadership stagnation common to some schools and school districts. Personally, I think it would fantastic to have a talented young woman begin her career as a high school English teacher then make her way into a communications position somewhere; or an energetic and ambitious young man begin his career as a middle school teacher and move into a training and development position with a Fortune 500 company. I am a big proponent of rethinking the profession in ways that make it a more appealing place for teachers to stay, but everyone doesn’t have to stay, nor should they.

With that said, schools must have veteran educators who commit to careers in teaching long-term. In fact, I argue that such veterans are critically essential elements for the success of any school or school district. Schools and charter management organization’s (CMO) would be extremely shortsighted to dismiss the critical importance of master teachers whose expertise comes only with experience. Any organizations thinking in that way would be wise to reconsider their staffing models and teacher career ladders.

But master teachers are not the norm. Even with the current school staffing model where the majority of school staff are long-term veteran educators, only a quarter to a third of teachers at most could be legitimately characterized as master teachers. Very few teachers are exceptional. Most teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. That’s no slight to teachers, it’s just the truth. But average is okay. If most of my daughter’s teachers end up being average with the occasional exceptional teacher sprinkled into her academic career I’ll be a happy camper. In fact, whether it’s instruction for my child or service at Starbucks, I should expect average; expecting the exceptional is unreasonable. Exceptional service/instruction/expertise is just a treat, not something you get all the time. We ought to think of exceptional teaching or service like we think of a truly exquisite glass of wine or a very rare Bourbon (for you Kentuckians). Most of us just don’t have that stuff every night with dinner.

Most teachers, just like most doctors, lawyers, professors, baristas, musicians, and engineers, are average. Most of us, regardless of what we do, are not exceptional. If we were all exceptional, exceptional wouldn’t be exceptional, it would be average. So the rhetoric that everyone coming into the teaching profession ought to be on a track to become a master teacher doesn’t hold water. The reality has never truly matched that rhetoric, but the rhetoric, and in some cases restrictive policies and practices which institutionalize the rhetoric, have kept some very talented young (and older) people from considering teaching. We’ve often scared away or locked out people who could make noteworthy instructional contributions for 3, 4, or 5 years.

I am incredibly grateful for the career teachers that have served children so well for so long. I have been taught by and mentored by more than a few phenomenal career educators. I owe much of the success I’ve enjoyed in my career to them. But the world is changing and the teaching profession has to change with it, whether you like it or not. I’ll talk more about those changes in my next post; but my advice to educators, educational leaders, and colleges of teacher education is to get in front of this change and help to shape where the teaching profession goes rather than allow change to drag you along kicking an screaming.

 

 

Building a New Teaching Profession in the USA

I recently returned home after
spending nearly two weeks in Finland. After meeting with dozens of Finnish
education officials, administrators, and teachers, one of several recurrent
themes was trust. Finnish educators said repeatedly that trust is a hallmark of
their educational system and their relatively recent success on the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA). They talked about trusting a lot of
people; education officials trusting school principals, principals trusting teachers,
teachers trusting students and parents, etc. But most often the conversations
centered on how much trust the Finnish people have in teachers. As a former
teacher and a teacher advocate, I think that is awesome!

But we Americans would be foolish to look at the Finns
success, hear that it comes from trusting their teachers, and then therefore reason that trusting American teachers in that manner would lead us to success similar to that of the Finns. I
have likely upset some of you by saying that but it is true. We do not have
reason to have a blanket trust in American teachers. I wish things were that simple, but they are not. I argue that instead of advocating for
blanket trust for American teachers today our course of
action should be to begin building a teaching profession in the United States worthy
of such trust.

What it means to be a teacher in Finland is a bit
different than what it means to be a teacher in America. In Finland, throughout the nation’s history and even today
teachers are regarded as the candles of society, spreading light into the
darkness. Teaching is regarded as one of the most honorable and respected
professions in the country. Very many of the best and brightest students
graduating high school apply to teacher education programs in Finnish universities. Because
the profession is regarded in that manner, university teacher education
programs are able to choose from among the best and brightest of the best and
brightest students entering Finnish universities. That is not quite the case in the United States.

Over the last 10 years I have often had the opportunity to speak
to middle and high school students, and I often talk with them about
considering careers in teaching. Unfortunately, it is the very rare motivated
and highly academically capable student that tells me that they are interested
in a career in teaching. It is the current reality in the USA that our teachers
are a mixed bag. Some of our teachers were the brightest, most capable, and
highly motivated students in their high school and university classes. As students these
teachers could have chosen to major in anything. In current role as faculty
member in a college of education, I have the opportunity to work with some of Kentucky’s most
phenomenal educators. Some of these educators are outstanding in every conceivable way. They
are smart, talented, unbelievably hardworking, and passionately committed to
their students and to the teaching profession. These professionals make me so proud
to be a teacher.

Unfortunately, however, many teachers in our classrooms are
not as talented, committed, or passionate about children or about teaching as
the teachers I just described. Some teachers in American classrooms have landed
there because they couldn’t cut it in other majors or professions and teaching
was relatively easy to get into and keep a job. Some are in the classroom
because teaching has been considered a stable
profession. Some teachers are in classrooms because the hours and calendar
schedule of the profession are convenient for raising a family. And believe
it or not, some teachers are in the profession for the money. You won’t get
rich teaching, but in the right school district with the right credentials and a
few years of experience you can make a pretty decent living as a teacher.

What Do I Propose?

I propose building a teaching profession in the USA that we
can be proud of; not just a portion of the teaching profession that are
superstars, but a profession of superstars. I propose building a teaching
profession of individuals that could have chosen any career path but chose to teach. I propose building a teaching profession in America that we can trust to lead us into the future.

Building that kind of teaching profession in the USA would
not be easy. In fact, the stack is currently staked against our being able to
pull it off, but we could do it. We would have to be intentional about it and
it would take the buy-in and collaboration of some key stakeholders. First, we
would need to acknowledge that the teaching profession in the USA is not what we
want it to be, and that our current teaching force is not what we would like it
to be. The teaching profession, including salary structure, career ladders, and
accountability, would have to be drastically reformed to attract a new breed of
candidates into the profession. Colleges of teacher education would have to get
on board by actively recruiting a new, diverse breed of teacher candidates into
the profession, selecting only the highest quality candidates for entry into
programs, and holding candidates to extremely high standards; functioning as true
gate-keepers to the teaching profession. Teacher training programs would have to
embrace radical reform enabling them to better equip teacher candidates with
the necessary content knowledge, pedagogical expertise, and dispositions for
meeting the needs of the diverse group of learners in 21st century
American classrooms. Policy makers and colleges of teacher education would have
to work together to create high-quality pathways for talented professionals to
enter the teaching profession as a 2nd career, but with the necessary training and preparation for
long-term success once they get there. Teachers would have to start tapping
talented students as early as middle school to get them to consider careers in
teaching. And teachers unions would have to radically transform themselves into
high-quality professional associations that play a major role in both building
and refereeing the teaching profession. Professional associations must play a
major role in holding their members to the highest standards for professional
practice.

By the end of my career I would love nothing more than to
entertain visitors from across the world and tell them that a key to the
success of schools in the USA is the trust that we have placed in our teachers.
I would love nothing more than to say that the American people have every
confidence in American teachers and that the teaching profession is highly respected because
we know that our teachers are well-equipped for and passionately committed to preparing
our students for successful careers and lives as citizens of the greatest
country in the world. It is my hope and my prayer that we will have the courage
to own up to our shortcomings and the
will to transform teaching into the profession that it should be and can be.

North Carolina Charter Schools, Teacher Credentialing, and the Future of Teacher Licensure

North Carolina Senate Bill 337 would, among other things,
remove the current statutory requirement that at least 75% of teachers in
elementary charter schools and 50% of teachers in charter high schools hold
teacher licenses. The controversial bill was passed in the Senate and now sits
with the House Education Committee. In addition to the eliminating teacher
licensing requirements, the bill would create a new state Charter School Board
with substantial statutory authority. I will discuss the implications of the creation
of such a board in a future post, but here I want to focus on the potential
elimination of teacher licensure requirements for charter school teachers in
the state.

If Senate Bill 337 is passed by the Republican-controlled North
Carolina House and signed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, as I believe it
will be, the implications for teacher certification in the state are pretty
significant. If the bill passes, North Carolina wouldn’t be the first state to
remove certification requirements for teachers in public charter schools. In
Louisiana, a state that has blazed the trail in recent years for controversial
school choice policies, provisions of House Bill 976 (2012) eliminated certification
requirements for charter school teachers in the state. Prior to the passage of House
Bill 976, Louisiana law required that 75% of teachers in charter schools have
valid teaching certificates. The elimination of certification requirements for
charter school teachers in Louisiana has been pretty hotly debated—as I believe
it will be in North Carolina; with the change drawing the ire of teachers
unions and traditional public school district superintendents.

In Louisiana, this change has immediate implications for the
vast majority of teachers in the city of New Orleans. Approximately 75% of
public schools in New Orleans are charter schools and nearly 80% of the city’s
public school students attend charter schools. So eliminating requirements for
teacher certification in Louisiana could mean that over time, a majority of
teachers working in public schools in a major American city could be non-licensed teachers. Charter schools in
none of North Carolina’s cities serve nearly the percentage of students as
charter schools in New Orleans, so the immediate implications of the passage of
Senate Bill 337 are not quite as drastic. But eliminating licensure
requirements for charter school teachers in North Carolina and Louisiana
represents a national conversation (or debate) around what the most appropriate
credentials for public school teachers ought to be.

The majority of advocates for eliminating state licensure requirements
for charter school teachers see state-licensure as an unnecessary hurdle for other-wise
qualified aspiring content experts
who would like to teach. While the current policy changes pertain only to
teachers in charter schools, changes to licensure requirements for teachers in
traditional public schools will likely follow in some states. How could they not?
Whatever one’s feelings regarding the utility of charter school reforms, there
is no debating the fact that charter schools are in fact public schools; and
states will have a difficult time rationalizing the maintenance of one set of
credentialing requirements for chemistry teachers at Johnson Traditional High
School, but then waiving those credentialing requirements for Jackson Charter
High School right across the street. It just doesn’t make sense.

Teachers unions and traditional public school district
superintendents in Louisiana and North Carolina are currently making the
argument that different requirements for charter school teachers and traditional
public school teachers doesn’t make sense. They are right. But what I don’t
think they understand yet is that the resolution to these differences in
requirements for teachers will likely be the elimination of state licensure
requirements for all public school teachers in a state. It won’t happen
overnight and it won’t happen in all states, but mark my words, that’s where
this is heading.

The implications for teacher training, schools of teacher
education, and the teaching profession are huge! More to come…

My State of the Union Education Wish List

As we prepare to hear President Obama’s assessment of the state of our great nation tonight in the annual State of the Union Address tonight, I am making a list of a few statements that I would like to hear him make. The president is preparing for what many pundits are predicting will be a pretty tough re-election campaign, so I would expect him to recap some of the education accomplishments of his administration, and that is fine. But after a brief recap of those victories, I want him to make a few clear and definitive statements about the educational direction he would like to move the nation in during a second term. 

Here are a few of the specific things I would like to hear:
  1. I want to hear President Obama say that we must increase the number of high quality public school options available to parents. The president has been a supporter of increasing public school options for families in the past and I hope to hear that commitment reaffirmed tonight.
  2. I want to hear President Obama say that we do not currently have the necessary teaching and leadership capacity in our schools to prepare our children for 21st Century success; and that states must adopt a “by any means necessary” approach to getting teacher and school leader capacity to where it needs to be. 
  3. I want to hear the president say that states must hold schools, teachers, and leaders individually and collectively accountable for student learning. I want him to say that schools where children do not learn are of no use to us. I want him to say when children do not learn, adults have to lose their jobs.
  4. I want to hear President Obama say that he will remain committed to the federal government providing financial supports and incentives for states that take bold steps toward implementing serious reform in their public schools; not the surface stuff that everyone likes, but really committing to going back to the drawing board to redesign systems so that all children can learn.
It is past time to get serious about providing a quality public education for all of our children.

The Teacher Salary Schedule Must Go

Since my time as an early career teacher it has always struck me as odd that teachers’ pay is as regimented as it is. I can remember my introduction to the teacher salary schedule as a first year exceptional children’s teacher in the New Orleans Public Schools. As a new teacher, I remember coming to the conclusion that it did not matter how good a teacher I became, how hard I worked, or how much my students learned, my salary would be determined solely based on the number of years that I stuck around and whether I earned another degree. That message is not one that we should be sending to new teachers, veteran teachers, or potential entrants to the teaching profession.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many teachers as colleagues, mentors, mentees, and students. Many of those teachers have been exceptional professionals, but a significant minority of them have not been. As I reflect on the teachers that I have seen and worked with over the years, a few things are apparent to me. First, there has not been a strong correlation between teachers’ years of teaching experience and their instructional prowess. While nearly all teachers take a couple of years to get the lay of the land and get comfortable with teaching, beyond those initial years I have seen immense variation in teachers’ abilities. I have worked with the third year teacher who could teach circles around the 10-year veteran, and I have worked with the 15-year veteran whose expertise in classroom management resembled that of a first-year teacher fresh out of a sub-par teacher preparation program.
Similarly, I have seen absolutely no correlation between instructional expertise and holding a masters degree. I have worked with teachers holding masters degrees in whose classrooms very few children learned anything, and I have worked with teachers holding only bachelors degrees in whose classroom no one–child or adult–ever left without learning. Now, after having taught in and researched teacher and administrator preparation programs across the country, I can completely understand why this is the case (I will explore this in a future post).
Here are a few things that I have learned about teachers: 
  • Some teachers are great. Some teachers are good. Some teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. Some teachers should not be teachers.
  • There is a strong positive correlation between great teachers and student learning.
  • There are a myriad of factors that contribute to great teachers being great. The list is as long as the discussion of the factors is complex.
  • Inputs like years of experience and additional degrees may be important, but these factors may or may not be positively correlated with student learning.
With all that said, we continue with a system where teachers are paid according to inputs (years of experience and graduate degrees) with no consideration of their outputs (student learning). This is preposterous. It makes absolutely no sense to me that a school district would pay two 10-year veteran teachers with masters degrees identically even when one teacher is clearly outstanding and the other is clearly not. It makes even less sense to me that a school district would pay a bad, 10-year veteran teacher significantly more for teaching 6th grade mathematics than it would pay a 5th year teacher who is clearly outstanding. What is even more ludicrous to me is that two teachers with identical inputs entering the profession in the same year in the same school district would earn identical salaries for the length of their careers regardless of whether they have differential development as teachers. What these realities say to me (and to teachers) is what we value most is you sticking around a long time whether you are good or not, and getting a masters degree. If children happen to learn anything in your classroom, that’s fine but not necessary; we are not going to reward you for it. 
As I am not one to mince words, let me go on the record here to say that I think the teacher salary schedule is ridiculous. While it may (or may not) have been useful in previous generations, it will not help us to encourage continuous improvement in the teaching profession or to steal top-notch talent from other professions in the 21st Century. The teacher salary schedule must go, and it must go now. It has already had an unbelievable negative impact on the teaching profession and P-12 student learning. We must eliminate its use immediately so that it can do no more harm.

Proposed Mandatory Teacher Selection Training for Principals in Kentucky (Senate Bill 124)

In an effort increase practicing principals’ capacities to select high quality teachers, Senate Bill 124 would require that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in collaboration with the Education Professional Standards Board develop a teacher selection training module that would assist principals with identifying “quality indicators” of effective teachers, including teachers’ verbal ability, content knowledge, quality of education coursework, ability to relate to students, and ability to monitor student learning through formal and informal assessments.

Although I question whether the state legislature should play such a micromanaging role in the training provided by KDE, I believe such training is useful. However, I am not sure that most practicing principals do not already possess the skills that this statutorily mandated training would provide, so I question the amount of money that would be spent at that state and local district levels by mandating this state training for all principals. Additionally, such a mandate presupposes that neither principal preparation programs nor local districts are already providing such training to principals and aspiring principals.

Finally, I would caution the legislature to consider that even having principals who possess these capacities, and I believe many principals already do, would not necessary result in higher quality teaching candidates being selected for vacancies. In many cases principals make decision to hire teaching candidates not because they are high quality teachers, but because they are the best candidate that has applied for the job. I am sure we can all appreciate the fact the best candidate for a teaching position, especially in hard-to-staff areas of the state, is not always a high quality candidate. I provide this word of caution simply so that legislators do not make the mistaken assumption that having all principals trained to “identify quality indicators of effective teachers” will result in a “high quality, effective teacher in every classroom.” It will not. Efforts to increase the capacities of the pool of teaching applicants across the state will go much further toward that end.

Innovation in Attracting New Teachers in Maine

The University of Maine- Fort Kent has announced the launch of an accelerated three-year bachelor’s degree program in education in fall 2010. The program is intended for “the academically-gifted and talented student aspiring to become an exemplary teacher.” Admission to the program will be competitive. The program seeks students with a high school gpa of 3.0 or better, standing in the top 15% of high school graduating class, SAT of 1500 or higher, ACT of 21 or higher, and early college and advanced placement experiences. Completion requirements don’t cut any corners. Graduates of the program must complete a minimum of 120 credit hours with a minimum 2.5 gpa, successful completion of Praxis I and II and one semester of student teaching.

I am very excited about the possibilities of this Main-Fort Kent’s program and other similar ones. We have to start to be innovative in attracting some of our best young academic talent into teacher education programs. It is not appropriate that a profession as vital to our nation’s prosperity as teaching should be the career of choice for those who can’t get into the career that they would really want to pursue. Programs such as this one help to put us back on the track of making teaching a career of choice rather than one of last resort. Clearly, it will take a whole lot more than attracting new talent to teaching to get our education system to where it needs to be. We need to also develop innovative programs to retain the outstanding talent that we have. But I am inspired by the program’s innovativeness. Let’s not be afraid to try new things and see what happens. 

Proposed Changes to Educator Preparation in Indiana

The Indiana Department of Education and Professional Standards Board are proposing changes to educator preparation that would require universities  to make significant changes in their education programs. The biggest changes include: (a) restricting universities to 30 semester hours of coursework in “methods”, (b) permitting anyone with a masters degree in any discipline to apply for a waiver from certification to become a superintendent, (c) permitting teachers who pass a “leadership test” to apply for a  waiver from certification to become a principal, and (d) allowing teachers to renew their licenses by taking professional development seminars offered by their school districts instead of having to take graduate-level college courses. If approved, Indiana’s changes could go into effect as soon as July 2010, causing university education programs to make major changes in a short period of time. 

Indiana’s department of education is attempting to step across the traditional boundaries that have separated the K-12 world and institutions of higher education. If approved, Indiana’s proposal would allow the state to dictate to universities what the curricula of their teacher education programs will look like. These changes will require programs to place a far greater emphasis on content courses while reducing the number of methods courses that students take. Additionally, the proposed waivers from principal and superintendent certification will  put into question the future of university educational leadership programs in Indiana.
If this proposal is approved, and it appears likely that it will be, questions arise concerning relationships between state departments of education and institutions of higher education. Traditionally, universities have designed their educator preparation programs without the interference of state departments of education. However, it is not beyond reason that this case could have a diffusion effect, with state departments of education across the US following Indiana’s lead.