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.