Teacher education

Teacher quality matters

If improving teacher quality is the number one (hat tip Lee Rakes) way to improve education, what are some ways districts and states can do that? I wish I had the magic answer, but I do think we have some examples for the right direction.

1. Support beginning teachers better. Mentor teachers are a start but not enough. One year my dad worked in a quasi-administrative position as a support for first year teachers in his district. The situation was ideal for those teachers because he was in a solely supportive role, not evaluative. He also observed experienced teachers who excelled in challenging situations the first year teachers were having so that he could share ideas. Since his position was districtwide, he facilitated conversations between teachers in different schools. I would take this idea and expand it to include the first three years of teaching. The position could be full or part-time for a master teacher, depending on the size of the district.

2. Provide more time for working collaboratively. Teaching in isolation can lead to burn-out and lack of growth. Working as teams, either as grade levels in elementary school or middle school or as content areas in high school, can help the more inexperienced teachers learn, invigorate the veterans and improve everyone. Time for cross-team work such as interschool or across the grades needs to increase also. Parents at my kids’ elementary school were surprised to learn that teachers only met with their counterparts at the other elementary schools twice a year and on specific topics. A subject such as math may not be addressed formally at all in a year. I, personally, thought the district was generous in giving them two times to meet—an obvious difference in perspective from an educational point of view than a business point of view.

3. Require meaningful professional development. I’ve been to workshops, conferences, classes and meetings that have made me a better teacher and ones that have been a waste of time. Targeted professional development though is necessary for any profession, including teaching. One of the reasons I chose my children’s pediatric group was that the doctors attended weekly lectures at Children’s Hospital. Doctors also must keep up by reading journals and attending lectures and conferences. I expect educators to do the same.

4. Change student teaching structure. Student teaching should be a one-year, paid internship for those who have already completed their degree. Schools have a commitment to student teachers and I like that my children’s pediatric group has residents, but as a parent I don’t like student teachers. They are put in charge of the class too quickly and make transitions hard on the younger kids. A one-year internship would give them a better feel for teaching in a more gradual manner. Teaching is a challenge; we should provide support instead of taking the “throw them in and see who makes it” approach.

5. Increase teacher pay. This is a capitalistic economy. To get a stronger teaching pool, we need to increase the pay. I’m not talking about the exceptions or individuals but about the profession as a whole. This may not be the only change needed, as Bill Gates said on Fareed Zakaria’s show last Sunday, but it is certainly one of them.

6. Increase difficulty level of teacher education schools. This is a whole area in itself, but if we are going to work on increasing teacher pay and making the profession more respected, the typical teacher ed program can NOT be the easiest school at the university. Period. Requiring teachers to act like professionals by keeping up with education research starts in teacher ed programs. The direction of education is often decided by politicians and “policy experts.” Too many teachers stay out of the discussions. Besides the theory, ed schools need to have their students involved in schools early, not wait until student teaching. (See posts Get them into the classrooms, Lessons from med school)

7. Change the salary schedule and change to a system in which districts can fire the teachers who have quit teaching.

Improving teacher quality and teacher ed schools is one of my passions. I would love to hear other ideas.

Cut the Educational Jargon, Please!

jargon watch

A few weeks ago I helped a friend with a résumé and cover letter. She’s also required to submit a “Philsophy of Education,” so I looked at one she wrote a few years ago for an education course. She had received a good grade, but I told her to rewrite it. Why? Too much jargon! She needed more content, more specifics, and less airy fairy language.

This sparked a discussion about education courses and whether they were helpful to her as an instructor, how much, and how they could be more so. Her ideal is strong content knowledge first with small doses of educational workshops/courses while teaching with plenty of time to pursue content interests. While she doesn’t teach secondary, I think the premise still holds.

Teacher ed schools need to focus on helping teachers improve their teaching rather than trying to sound more academic by encouraging or even accepting the overuse of jargon. The prestige they seek will come from success rather than imitating other so-called soft sciences.

(See previous posts Lessons from Med School, Get Them into the Classroom)

Should teachers go to school?

(photo by dcJohn)

Ladue teachers are going back to school.

❝Ladue, one of the top-performing districts in the state, has recently told its teachers with bachelor's degrees that a master's degree "will be the new standard expected" within four years.❞ (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

The Post article basically says that the teachers aren’t going back to improve their teaching, as “study after study” shows that further education isn’t worth much. Then why would Ladue encourage their teachers to spend their time in class?

❝To the Ladue School District, it's worth their reputation, and the support of voters who may approve or deny tax increases.❞

That seems harsh. Maybe pragmatic?

I had noticed the Ladue outlier in a post on teacher salaries last spring.

I would like to drill deeper into the research on graduate studies since it seems so counter-intuitive to me as both a former teacher and as someone who has looked at a lot of numbers. I have a lot of questions.

Would the research differ if we factored in the type of degree and/or the challenge level?

❝I still see a lot of generalist master's programs that are pretty easy and painless for teachers to get through," Hausfather [dean of education at Maryville University] said. "It's still hard to push programs that push people. They just want to get a degree and a pay raise.❞ (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

❝They [Goldhaber and Brewer (1996) also found that, although advanced degrees in general were not associated with higher student achievement, an advanced degree that was specific to the subject area that a teacher taught was associated with higher achievement.❞ (Center for Public Education)

Would the research differ if we isolated certain age levels or certain subject areas?

❝Goldhaber and Brewer (1996) found that the presence of teachers with at least a major in their subject area was the most reliable predictor of student achievement scores in math and science.❞ (Center for Public Education)

What long-term effects does being perceived as more professional have on the teaching profession?

This seems to be the affect Ladue is going for. I’m not sure how it can be measured. Have they done surveys?

Passion, or lack thereof, in ed schools


I've been reading David Labaree's The Trouble with Ed Schools for my late-night reading material because I am passionate about improving the quality of teacher education. OK, I'm passionate about education in general and expect people going into the profession to be so also. Alas.

A friend and I were chatting yesterday about the people we knew in various teacher prep programs. Unfortunately, most of them majored in ed because they 1) needed a fallback if they couldn't make money doing what they really wanted to do 2) they had to choose something 3) like teaching well enough but only plan on doing so a few years until they have children.

None of these are bad reasons in themselves, and I don't fault these individuals, but it demonstrates the low status that Labaree demonstrates U.S. society gives to ed schools. Would anyone go to law school as a fallback? nursing school? (Ed school is often compared to nursing and social work schools, so I think that one is a particularly valid question.)

I asked someone who went to Truman if anyone she knew didn't feel passionately about teaching. Nope. Nobody there majored in education because they didn't know what else to do. Perhaps this is because Truman did away with awarding a bachelor's in education, so the students are planning on a five-year program. The purpose may be to strengthen the academics, but the side benefit may be to strengthen the education program. Passionate students improve classes.

Washington University is now also moving to a master's only program.

Lessons from med school


I've always been impressed by the six-year pre med/med school program my brother attended at UMKC. Students there are accepted out of high school into an intensive program that combines pre med with med school so that they end up receiving both degrees at the same time. Practically speaking this means that students theory and practice are interwoven through the six years.

Students of varying years are placed together in a team with a docent. They make rounds with their team and are given increasing responsibilities at the hospital as they further their studies. They start making rounds the first week of school. I remember my brother needing to buy a lot of ties!

❝Docents are responsible for their own docent unit, comprised of 10 to 12 students. Year 3 students join a new docent unit and have individual offices at either the medical school or St. Luke’s Hospital. Docent units include Years 3-6 students, a clinical pharmacologist, an education team coordinator, a docent and other health care professionals.❞

We can implement quite a few of these into a strong teacher education program.

Get them into the classroom
Just like in my previous post, I believe students studying education need to be in the classroom right away. I love how the pre-med students were in the hospital making rounds their first week of college. What a great motivation! Integrating theory becomes so much easier when they see and experience teaching from the beginning.

Put them into teams
Teaching is no longer the isolated profession it used to be (or at least shouldn't be). Learning from each other and learning how to work with each other should be part of the culture.

Strengthen their academics
Truman University has experimented with requiring their education students to get their bachelor's in their content area or, for elementary ed students, in a related field like psychology and then get a master's in education. The students plan the program from the start as many of their undergraduate electives need to be education classes, especially elementary ed. I know that combining undergrad and grad isn't the answer for every program, but I do know that strengthening the academics overall is key.

Get them into the classroom


The boys at St. Louis University High School do a three week-long community service project their senior year. One of the options is to work in various local elementary schools. They are there all day, in the same classroom, for three weeks, not observing but helping. The boys are to keep a daily journal, complete a written report and follow-up with a discussion with their faculty advisor. By the way, the kids love the them.

While few of these young men will probably go into teaching, especially elementary, they probably will have more classroom experience than most elementary education majors before their student teaching semester. I believe that education majors need to get in the classroom much earlier in their degree programs and not just to observe. An intensive intersession during the first year of schooling would help education students know if they really want to teach before their final semester and provide some context for their theoretical studies. While the SLUH program is for community service, it showed me a glimpse of what our teacher ed programs should be doing.

Getting "Slammed" by student teaching


The other day I was talking to a friend who is in college in a teacher ed program. He made the comment that you study all this pointless theory and then you get slammed when you student teach. I happen to disagree that the theory is pointless, but I definitely agree that you get "slammed" when you student teach and believe that the theory would be more meaningful after you have started some teaching.

I talked to other friends who teach and supervise student teachers in hopes of learning that the teacher ed world has made great strides since I was more directly in the field. Nope.

In that spirit I plan on making several posts presenting my ideas on teacher ed. I have yet to read up on what others are saying but will do so and, of course, comment. These first posts, however, are some ideas I've had based on my own experiences and/or observations.