Choices for Teachers

I wrote this last night thinking of submitting it to the Faculty Room, but I realized I misunderstood our focus question, and I didn’t want my post to go to waste.  Thus, here are my thoughts on some choices teachers ought to have about their profession and environment.

Teachers have differing degrees of choice in their educational experience, depending on a variety of factors: where they live and teach; who their administrators are and what their philosophies are; what access they have to technology and other tools; and what kind of support they have from the district and community.

I think teachers ought to be able to design their own professional development based on their needs and interests.  Too much of our professional development does little to enhance our learning and teaching.  Furthermore, teacher certification agencies ought to examine these self-designed professional development plans and approve them (or not) for staff development or professional learning units.  The two single most beneficial professional learning opportunities I have undertaken—a course in Mel Levine’s Schools Attuned and a self-directed study and subsequent establishment of a professional learning community centered around Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design—will not count even one PLU credit towards certificate renewal, but you’d be surprised at the insipid courses I have taken that will.

Teachers should have some input in the hiring process of new colleagues.  After all, we will be working closely with new teachers, and it stands to reason that we will work better with colleagues with whom we share philosophies and goals.  The best schools I have worked in have always given teachers some say regarding which teachers are hired.  In the past, I have been interviewed by full panels, including a prospective department chair and colleague as well as administration, and I have also participated in a hiring process that requires the department chair to observe a sample lesson taught by the prospective teacher.  I think this kind of input has made me feel more comfortable about being interviewed as well as selecting potential colleagues.

Teachers should have some input into the courses they teach, including opportunities to write curriculum.  Many schools have a form of hierarchy based on seniority, and I think this is fair.  In addition, teachers should have some autonomy in selecting topics for study or emphasis, too.  I admit I am an English teacher, so to me it seems natural to be able to select novels for study.  I understand that math teachers don’t have the option to decide not to teach quadratic equations if they don’t like them that much.  However, teachers should also follow a curriculum or standards to ensure that all students receive a good, comprehensive education, and I think many if not most teachers should be able to write a curriculum plan that addresses the essential knowledge and skills in their subject matter.

If teachers are afforded the opportunity to shape their professional learning, select their colleagues, and write the curriculum, I think we will find much happier, more collegial and professional educators.  I have had some opportunity to do all three, and it has made a difference in how I feel about my work.  Ultimately, teachers must be trusted.  Teachers who are not trusted will not have opportunities to design professional learning—they won’t challenge themselves to grow.  Teachers who are not trusted will not select their colleagues or write curriculum because they might make poor choices.  If teachers are not trusted to make these decisions, however, why do we trust them with our students at all?

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3 thoughts on “Choices for Teachers

  1. This is very true – but it's anathema to the maintenance of the current institution of Education.

    Historically, the gatekeeper function of licensure has guaranteed only those few people who have been properly indoctrinated are allowed to enter the profession. Relinquishing that control in any way places the whole structure at risk.

    It's why you don't see *real* fast track licensure processes in place.

    It's not about how good a teacher you are, or the mastery of your subject domain. It's about the certifications that keep the political dynamic in place. The *idea* of continuing education for teachers is good, but the implementation of it is laughable to everybody except those who administer the process — and those who become victims of it. If the real purpose of continuing education for teachers was to keep their skills up, then it would be treated more humanely and less like HazMat Training to keep the district from being sued.

    The skills, attitudes, and knowledge levels needed to keep a teacher (anybody really) current these days are boggling. It's not something that can be accomplished in a few PD's scattered across the school year. Everybody knows it, but we continue to have State > District > Administrative push because it's important for the political process that those incumbents be seen to be "doing something" for Education.

    We've all seen time and time again that it's less important to be seen doing something useful.

    [/soapbox]

    and thanks for the cross post.. visit any time :)

  2. You have a great point about gatekeeping. We need to have something in place to ensure that the teachers we hire are highly qualified and keep learning (never mind that current professional development doesn't do that). One thing I think would help is that teachers be allowed to make proposals for professional development and then provide some sort of product or portfolio indicating what they have learned. Actually, that would be a lot more work than slogging through a pointless class, and I don't imagine there would be many takers, but there would be a few — me included. I would much rather do more work if it were truly valuable than do something I didn't think was worthwhile.

  3. "We need to have something in place to ensure that the teachers we hire are highly qualified…"

    That would be a step in the right direction. As you point out, it's not happening now, and I'm pretty sure that it's that way on purpose. Highly skilled professionals *always* earn more and by keeping this system in place, it enforces the artificial suppression of teacher salaries and protects the monopoly that higher education has on the process of licensure.

    There are perfectly good models in place for ascertaining skill levels, yet we don't follow them.

    In every state in the country, you can be a lawyer by passing the bar exam. It may be problematic to join a law firm, but you can get a license to practice. Why can't you go to the state dept of education and take the license test without having the slip of paper from a university that says you're allowed to take it? I'm not saying that the resulting teachers will be any more skilled, but the pool of talented, educated, caring, and dedicated individuals would become much larger. By permitting only a very small subset of possible teachers take the exam, the system guarantees the position of the colleges and universities but does little to deal with the larger problems of qualified (let alone "highly qualified") teachers.

    I'm not talking about having a degree. I have three degrees, but there's no state in the union where I can walk into the state office and say, "I'm here to get a teacher's license. Where do I take the test?"

    The barriers are not skill and knowledge, but credential, and until that changes, the other problems are really out of the hands of the people who are most effected by them — the teachers and the students.

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