Is it possible that instead of all the attention to eliminating tenure or “firing bad teachers,” we need to talk about what can be done to assure that we train, hire and retain great teachers?
We need to make certain that pre-service teacher training is robust, powerful, and up-to-date, that we provide the necessary support to sustain new teachers, and that we likewise educate and supervise principals to properly and appropriately use the evaluation system that we all worked so long and hard to create and implement.
It is high time that we work together to develop a pre-service program where master teachers from our public schools help more directly in the training of pre-service teachers—a training program with a balance of university and working teacher experts. Pre-service training must include a focus on classroom management, balanced instruction, best practices, and strategies for coping with reluctant learners, as well as subject content. Such training needs to make clear that all children can learn, but also make explicit how education professionals can best make this happen–give teachers all of the skills and strategies needed in today’s challenging school environments.
We need to transform and fortify the induction process for new teachers. We need to develop teacher internships and residency programs that overlap the college student teaching experience with paid classroom experience, while having new teachers work directly with master teachers. We need to require that all working teachers pursue a master’s degree related to their teaching assignment. [It has always surprised me that Delaware does not have this requirement for working teachers. Neighboring states have had this expectation for over thirty years!] New teachers need to be supported with resources like all basic classroom and copying supplies, smaller class sizes, on-going mentoring, and problem-solving consultations. Asking for help should no longer be seen as an automatic sign of weakness or incompetence.
Once good teacher candidates are found and hired, someone must be accountable for providing the kinds of resources needed to keep these people in place.
Remember, there is not much glamour or money involved in working in most public schools; people go into teaching because they want to make a difference. Plus, current research shows that merit pay and pay-for-performance for teachers are not successful tools in ultimately improving student performance. So what keeps a successful teacher working in our schools? Let’s ask teachers. They will be able to tell you what works, what doesn’t, and what they really need to help their most challenged and reluctant learners become successful.
But, what if a principal discovers that a teacher is not performing at a high enough level or that their planned instruction is not effective for their students?
Teacher evaluation is a major responsibility of the principal and the Assistant Principal. The evaluation process is time-consuming, but not difficult, if done correctly. All of our principals need to be better-prepared in classroom observation and in the accurate assessment of the teaching and learning taking place. DPAS II needs to include extended and repeated principal trainings. 4-5 principals should be able to look at the same teaching and judge it uniformly in the same manner–a process known as inter-rater reliability. This level of expertise takes a lot of training! Likewise, someone in each district needs to be in charge of and accountable for DPAS II. Someone in each district needs to be the “go-to guy” for both principals and teachers. Someone needs to be there to assist principals and teachers in the creation of measurable and productive Improvement Plans (IP’s). Ideally, plans first need to be reviewed by this ‘overseer’ prior to their implementation, then again during the 2-3 months of their engagement, and finally, there needs to be a review and documentation of the results before the plan is ended or before it is revised and continued. It’s called progress monitoring—teachers do it all the time.
All teachers need reliable, valid, and frequent feedback for improvement. Improvement Plans should be just that—vehicles to assist teachers in improving their professional practice in the classroom. Evaluation and improvement plans should not be punitive—the process should not be an automatic tool to exit people from the profession until and unless there is no other reasonable, timely, or obvious resolution to demonstrated weaknesses and flaws.
Finally, who’s to blame? Teacher tenure has gotten a great deal of hype in the press and during recent campaign debates. Concerns about tenure have been woven throughout education reform messaging. The Delaware legislature went so far last spring as to create new law regarding teacher tenure that stated that new teachers could not be granted tenure unless they had at least two out of three years of effective teaching, as measured by DPAS II evaluations. Well, DUH! We were all surprised that this was not already the practice throughout Delaware schools.
Wait a minute! Does this mean that new teachers with less than satisfactory ratings were being passed along to the ranks of tenured teachers?