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?