Sunday, April 21, 2013

3 Things We Must Admit (and Do) If We're Serious About Improving Teacher Quality

What prompted such self-indulgent reflection?
What led me to actually create a pie chart about myself!?
The other day, I read a tweet asking for input on accreditation of Teacher Education programs. In it’s “commitment to transparency and public accountability,” the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is “seeking public comment” on their standards for teacher education programs.
“Okay,” I thought, “I have a few things to say about this.”
I took the bait, clicked on their link, and after spending 30 minutes on a labyrinth of online questioning, I had the desire to chuck the shackles of the survey and go rogue, putting in my own words my own thoughts on this topic, an open letter to theCAEP, so here it is:
3 Things We Must Admit (and Do) if we’re Serious about Improving Teacher Quality:
1. We have to admit the Intangibles: Measuring the quality of new teachers based on their Teacher Ed program is fraudulent. (See my self-indulgent pie chart above.) Basing this conclusion on no one else but me (in my defense, I’m the most honest case study available to me), I attempted to quantify  the factors that constitute who I am as an educator.
In good conscience, I can only track about 5% of my expertise to my Teacher Preparation classes. Another 20% to my formal education in general k-12, B.A. M.A.+.  Most of who I am as an educator comes from intangibles: 50% goes to my upbringing, Mom and Dad. It was being raised with high expectations, curiosity, desire to succeed, and an intolerance for mediocrity. I’ll attribute the last 25% to my passion for my subject area (language arts) and my desire to see students succeed. What I realize is that my highly-unscientific self examination undermines the premise of the CAEP Teacher Education Evaluation process. Judging teacher quality based on teacher preparation classes measures 5% of the educator and ignores the other 95%, the all-important intangibles.
2.  We have to attract the Intangibles: If you accept my premise that the most important teacher qualities are the intangibles, then our priority becomes clear: to somehow attract those intangibles into the field of education. To get excellent educators, start with the best ingredients.
We need to attract those with a crush on excellence, an unflappable determination to make a difference, a curiosity bent on incessant improvement. In other words, seek and retain top-notch candidates – the ones that are also highly sought by industry and business. And to compete, we need to pay them an attractive salary (college debt forgiveness makes great sense here too). We need to respect educators, giving them the dignity that befits those who are nurturing the next generation. We need to treat teaching as an art that requires years of practice to achieve an ever-changing “mastery.” A high art, a higher calling, a life well spent.
3. We need to nurture the Intangibles. Once we attract the best and brightest, we need to help them evolve into master educators with an authentic apprenticeship program. We need to identify master teachers currently in the field (National Board Certified teachers, for starters), and then leverage their expertise in an intensive mentor role, allowing new teachers to incrementally evolve into their practice over the course of 2-3 sustained years of intense training under the tutelage of a master teacher.
If we were serious about creating a critical mass of master teachers and making serious improvements in teaching and learning, we’d invest in and insist on such a structure.
  • Admit the intangibles.
  • Attract the intangibles.
  • Nurture the intangibles.
These are not easy concepts to quantify, these are not easy steps to take, but the conclusion of this self-indulgent, case-study-of-one teacher/researcher is that acknowledging and nurturing “the intangibles” would be a far more authentic and productive path to sustained teacher improvement than what’s currently being discussed.
And until such steps are taken, aren’t we all kind of fibbing here? Pretending that we can fatten the pig by weighing it?