Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Teach Strong, a positive approach to support educators or the same ole same ole

Yesterday a new initiative was put forward to attempt to bring together many different factions with opposing views about education. It is clear that the civil rights groups want accountability to assure that all children receive a quality education. It is also clear that many educators and parents also want the same thing.  The difference is in the approach that each takes to achieve that end. Of course the solution is to bring those and a wide variety of other groups together to see if it is possible for collaboration to succeed.  

I am not interested in guilt by association, I have friends on many sides of the issue.  Where my interest lies is in the issues.  How can we take a diverse group and clear our heads, stop the finger pointing long enough to focus on the agenda of children.  Many on both sides say that this is an impossible task.  And they may be right.  What's going on at the classroom level is not just unethical, but it is immoral.  But to blame teachers, or principals or the parents or the kids or even the broad umbrella of poverty doesn't solve anything.  We must find solutions.  Let's look at the goals: 

1. Identify and recruit more diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce.

It is clear that there needs to be strong diversity of teachers in order to serve all students in a fair and equitable manner.  This is not to say only black or Latino teachers can teach black or Latino kids.  It means that role models are available to all kids on a regular basis allowing them to identify as well as support a quality education for all.  

My experience in a neighborhood school I designed and was put in an all black neighborhood had me receiving permission to have 70% black teachers.  Although there were not enough black teachers to allow this percentage throughout the Milwaukee Public School system, it allowed me to see the value of a diversified staff.  And I believe it was a great asset.  Why shouldn't there be a proper proportion in every school?

2. Reimagine teacher preparation to make it more rooted in classroom practice and a professional knowledge base, with universal high standards for all candidates.

Teacher preparation must be made real.  Currently there is a disconnect between universities and the classroom.  And this is not always a problem with the universities.  When I saw student teachers enter some of the schools I was in, I saw them change dramatically away from what they were taught to an outmoded way of teaching in the way schools are spozed to be.  The knowledge base must include the fundamental ability to teach the whole child, including teaching students who learn in different ways and at different rates.  A special emphasis must be put on the ability to use differentiated instruction in the classroom, using the community as the classroom to make learning real, empowering kids to be leaders, and supporting critical thinking.

As for high standards for teacher candidates?  It depends on what the high standards are.  If they include the previous suggestions, of course.  If it means teachers scoring well on a standardized test or teaching to the test?  NEVER!

3. Raise the bar for licensure so it is a meaningful measure of readiness to teach.

My response is the same for this as the previous issue. 

4. Increase compensation in order to attract and reward teachers as professionals.

This goes without saying.  The teaching profession is approximately 84% female and average salaries are on the$50,000 range.  Engineers are about 85% male with the same education and their salaries are about $20,000 higher.  You want quality teachers, give them an incentive and treat them like the professionals they are.

5. Provide support for new teachers through induction or residency programs. 

This is also absolutely essential.  I have been a mentor for first year teachers and the conversations we had were phenomenal.  They need all the support they can get to be successful with a successful transition from university to the classroom.  But this support must not be traditional teach to the test.  This must be support for innovation, finding the way kids learn best, at their best rate. 

6. Ensure tenure is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.

Tenure, of course must be meaningful.  As it stands now, it does not assure teachers that they cannot be fired for misconduct or any other violation of rules or laws.  That is a myth.  When teachers are not fired for gross misconduct it is usually because of weak administrators who don't have the courage or energy to follow due process.  But putting a high level on tenure, if it is reasonable and not based on teacher or student testing would be valuable only if that teacher received proper support in the process.  And that support could easily come from quality retired teachers.  In fact all teacher assessments could be by retired teachers.  I did that and my colleagues had no patience for poor teaching but understood the profession without the agendas that go along with administrative assessments.  And they are cheaper.    

7. Provide significantly more time, tools, and support for teachers to succeed, including through planning, collaboration, and development.

Planning time is essential for innovation.  When you have a wide range of student skills within the classroom, they all must be approached at their level, taking them from where they are.  This requires a great deal of planning and cannot be achieved by following a script.  every child is unique from the most severe cognitive disabled across the spectrum to the gifted, test takers.  That is a wide range of diverse skills.  Planning for each individual is essential as every child is different.  Many will be similar, but all are different.

That also requires a reasonable class size.  Taking 40 kids in a class with one teacher when every child is different is not only unethical, it is immoral.

8. Design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs, and to foster feedback and improvement.

Feedback throughout the years of teaching is valuable for growth.  Most high quality educators appreciate feedback on a regular basis.  In order to give proper feedback it must include the mentor or assessor to spend significant time with the teacher in the classroom.  Administrators simply don't have the time.  And to hire more administrators at an extremely high cost in unnecessary.  Again the retired teachers would do a great job and have more time to spend in the classroom, uninterrupted.  University personnel would also be valuable in this effort.

9. Create career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally.

This is an area that can be explored.  Input from current teachers would be valuable in this effort.

Allow me to add one more.  As I support the Sanders Collins amendment included in the Every Child Achieves Act, I will add that 

10. we must provide a viable alternative to the current testing fiasco.  Whole child assessment, being the only real way of determining the skills of students, must be the primary means of determining student success.  As assessment drives the curriculum, then that curriculum would be whole child, showing what kids can do, not just how they can answer a question. And recognizing that it's not how kids come into the school, it's the gains they make while the are there that is important.

Included is a child's individual learning plan as all kids have different hopes and dreams 

Without systemic change, none of this will work, and the finger pointing will begin again.

Well, that's my take and my hope for the teach strong movement.  Of course this could all fall apart but this is an opportunity for the kind of change that is needed in education.  In order for this to happen there must be the kind of change that not only supports the skills and abilities of teachers but assures parents that their children will receive the highest quality education taking them on their pathway to success.

Do I support Teach Strong now?  Yes.  Because we must have the conversation.  Pointing fingers and shouting is no longer acceptable for professionals.

The conversation begins:  Cynthia on twitter wants teacher autonomy in the classroom. She adds "knowledge of the kids she teaches drives what she teaches".
I believe local assessment will allow that as well as IEP for all  Empower teachers to teach

Will I support Teach Strong six months from now?  I don't know.  If it falls along the wayside of political agendas, I will be the one screaming and yelling.  Until then it would be advantageous for all professional educators to get behind the effort, for now. 


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