This is the testimony that I gave before the House Education Committee this spring. It is long–turned out to be too long. As the president of DSEA, I am usually afforded three minutes–they were only giving two that day. Not many public speakers, but lots of good comments and questions from members of the committee.
“For the past two years I have had the rare opportunity to meet hundreds of new teachers across the state of Delaware. They come across as smart, eager, committed, and ready to step into classrooms of their very own. A few months later, I am not surprised to hear their wishes that teacher training programs had better prepared them for dealing with parents; managing discipline, time, and transitions between lessons; using classroom technologies; grading student work; managing record keeping, and working with the unimaginable student diversity in many of our classrooms.
The stated intention of recent legislation [that has since passed in both the Senate and the House] is to “improve” the preparation of new teachers to be hired by schools in Delaware. The bill puts in place additional controls to college-level education programs in the state’s five institutes of higher education.
I see this kind of legislation as strengthening teacher preparation in Delaware, rather than improving it. Improvement often implies fault or flaw or error. I believe that Delaware institutions of higher learning and their staffs have repeatedly demonstrated their interest, intent, and capacity to provide the best for prospective teachers.
However, times have changed and we must all be prepared to change with the times.
Tomorrow’s teacher prep programs must prepare candidates:
For students who will grow up and work in an interconnected world.
For highly mobile students and an increasing number of students in poverty.
For teaching in a wide range of classroom environments, including face-to-face, blended, and virtual.
A colleague uses this quote as part of her email signature: “Teaching reading IS rocket science.” She’s right. Reading instruction is incredibly complex and demanding. Effective math instruction is equally challenging. I’m a science teacher. In Delaware K-8 classrooms, we have all been trained to teach science in a unique and powerful way; inquiry-based, hands-on science instruction–in-depth, about a limited number of topics. This all requires special training and practice.
To some, teaching is a job; many teachers make it their career. To me and my colleagues, it is also an honorable profession. We are proud to teach. In our minds, it is as worthy and principled a profession as law or medicine.
And, as such, standards for the profession should be established and maintained by members of the profession. Those standards include the establishment of program admission criteria; completion requirements; demonstrations of competence in content knowledge, as well as the skills and strategies of pedagogy.
Additionally, I believe that comprehensive, in-depth, up-to-date, real world preparation programs should regularly involve the advice and involvement of skilled working teachers. I believe there is real value in having Delaware teachers directly involved in the planning and implementation of teacher preparation. I would love to see more opportunities for prospective teachers to be taught by exemplary classroom teachers.
[THIS IS WHERE I WAS CUT OFF–however, the legislators each got an email copy of the entire speech sent to them. Here is the rest of the speech.]
Teacher preparation is important. However, it goes hand-in-hand with (1) dedicated recruitment of minority candidates in our colleges, but also in our high schools; (2) enhanced training for teachers who host student teachers; (3) strengthening teacher induction practices for new teacher; (4) providing adequate and meaningful support for novice teachers; (5) upgrading compensation for new teachers; and (6) creating career opportunities for master teachers that keep them involved in teaching instead of moving them into administrative positions.
Teaching is as challenging a field as ever. Effective teachers need to be resourceful, flexible, and creative; a well-designed, well-managed teacher preparation program is a critical component to their initial and continued success.” THE END
Lots of concerns were expressed from various sources about this bill and whether or not my support proves that I am naive, crazy, heartless, co-opted, wrongly-motivated, or otherwise ill-suited for leadership. Perhaps this is evidence that I no longer care about teachers, and have gone over to the dark side.
I am quite possibly even corrupt. Oh, no–that’s that other bill.
I even hesitate to stick my neck out here ON MY VERY OWN BLOG, knowing that this will once again stir up the local posse of dissent who railed first against the TellDelaware survey. Interestingly, so few of them are educators or union members. Ah, well,…
So, where does this leave us?
For one thing–we had better be looking for a way into deep discussions about teacher salaries. Holy Cow! Before 2006, I would have argued heatedly about the need to maintain the decades-old teacher salary scale to which we had all become so accustomed. I would not have been alone.
It had, what we were led to believe and convinced ourselves, its “advantages.” Eye-roll, please. It is easy to understand–one page per year pretty much says it all; it is fairly straight-forward; it’s reliable–you know what you’re gonna get and when you’re gonna get it; and it appears to maintain some levels of stability, fairness, and democracy. Hah! Heck, we sat there at the table every three years and blithely negotiated our way through the tulips, ever so glad to end up with increases of 2-4% on just the local portion of salaries where the state paid about two-thirds. By the time one reached one’s 16th year in teaching, one had reached the top of the scale. No where else to go. Sorry, Charlie.
Upon further reflection, and having actually looked into what are known as alternative compensation models, one finally figures out that for years and years this salary scale has been more advantageous for management than for the workers. Oh, dear.
I had the chance to be appointed to a DSEA task force on alternative compensation way back in 2006 by, then president, Barb Grogg. I am no math genius, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that: (a) my career-long earnings were far below levels achieved by workers in comparable fields with comparable education and degrees, training, experience, and recognized expertise; (b) while my current salary was OK by some standards (at about $75,000 in 2006), it took me all of 33 years of unbroken and dedicated service to get there; and (c) the financial wizards on the other side of the curtain got to mete out my increases in pay in a very gradual, slow, and drawn-out manner. Good for their bottom line; not so good for mine.
I know, I know. Why did all of this insight take so long for me–for us–to discover? Who the heck knows. I’ll tell you one thing–it’s on me. I can hardly blame management for my failure to see the light. But, I surely saw it back then in 2006-2007 and I surely see it now. Progress, so the speak, was diverted by a couple of things: by a genuine need for improvement of the salaries of Delaware para-educators, which took a long time and some expertly-designed epilogue language, but is well on its way to getting accomplished, and, by the economic downturn that pretty much set everyone and everything back. More personally, the brief but significant bankruptcy of my local school district in the 2007-2008 school year took a great deal of my attention just as I stepped in as RCEA president.
Anyway, it is high time to pursue significant changes in the ways that teachers are paid, for what they may choose to be paid, the starting salaries of new teachers, and creating what has existed in almost any field–other than public school teaching–career advancement opportunities. As I stated in another post here, even the kid at McDonald’s gets a chance to advance. In my entire 39-year teaching career, I never had the chance to become anything more than a teacher.
Just like I upgraded my home-work technology apparatus and skill sets–see my previous post–there are a number of aspects of teacher/educator life that deserve an upgrade.
So, if they’re gonna require Delaware’s IHE to boost requirements for admission into their teacher education programs, require some kind of TBD exit assessment–heck I had to take the four-hour National Teacher Exam prior to graduation from Goucher College back in 1972 to receive a license to teach in Maryland (Goucher is in Baltimore)–and come up with some kind of accountability process that links novice teachers to the programs in which they were trained, then somebody better be looking at ways to attract these very same folks to teach and STAY in Delaware schools.
Increased pay, improved conditions for teaching, outstanding support for novice teachers–a topic for an upcoming post–and a career ladder for interested teachers–genuine opportunities to advance in teaching, to stay in teaching, and to benefit financially and professionally IN TEACHING are the next few hurdles. And, here we are in the perfect position to LEAD THE PROFESSION.