Tuesday, September 04, 2007


So... a couple of thoughts on teachers. Over at Threads from Henry's Web, Henry has a post that got me thinking about just how we can get excellent teachers. I don't know that it's so much about getting excellent teachers so much as keeping good teachers and helping them to become excellent. The Science Goddess posted (scroll down to August 25) about typical stages in a teaching career.

While I was at Dragon*Con, I wound up discussing what it costs to fire someone - paying severance if you don't have sufficient documentation, finding, recruiting and training a new hire, plus the cost of lost productivity. And that made me wonder just how effective programs like Teach for America are, if all they do is get a bunch of inexperienced teachers into the classroom for a couple of years. Granted, you don't have to worry about severance, but with high turnover, you're still spending money on training and losing it completely on productivity.

So all that led (slowly) to me asking myself: how can we train and retain excellent teachers?

I think the teaching profession needs a better apprenticeship program. I'm annoyed that I was REQUIRED to PAY FOR a liberal education before being inadequately trained as a teacher. Don't get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed my liberal arts courses. And I think teachers need to be familiar with more than just their own subject areas. (I can't remember where I saw it, but I'd wanted to comment on someone's post that asked, "What needs to be included in a 'basic' education?" or something similar.) However, that was thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars. I could've got similar results from the library at far less cost. I would've loved to study independently for a liberal arts certificate while getting more thorough instruction for my chosen profession. Unfortunately, that just wasn't an option at all.

IMO, a good student teaching experience would include observations from the university supervisor at LEAST weekly, and regular debriefings with the cooperating teacher and the university supervisor. Ideally, the student teacher would be paired with the same cooperating teacher for both pre-student-teaching observation and the student teaching itself. The student's observation should include a regular Q&A session so that the observing student could ask questions about the teacher's style, procedures, instructional methods, etc. It shouldn't be easy. NO ONE should breeze through student teaching, because, let's face it, being a good teacher is really stinkin' hard!

Teacher candidates who do not receive a job immediately out of college should do everything they can to continue their education: getting together with teachers of all sorts, participating in teaching discussions in online communities, reading books, attending workshops and seminars (yes, on your own dollar; so was college, after all), tutoring, volunteering as a literacy coach at the library, and let's not forget substitute teaching!

New teachers need a lot of help! (But then, we all knew that.) First of all, they need support. FIND A MOMMY. (I'm serious.) In fact, find more than one if you can manage it! Two things that helped my first year go well were having a stay-at-home husband who could give me lots and lots of attention and babying when I got back from school, and calling my mother in the morning before school started - not every day, but easily two or three times a week. And it still wasn't easy!

Mentor teachers can't give this kind of support (or at least, they shouldn't need to - it goes WAY beyond the call of duty). Other first-year teachers can comiserate, but new teachers really need a cheerleader and comforter in addition to a confidante.

However, mentor teachers SHOULD be highly involved in helping a new teacher continue to refine skills and navigate the ins and outs of the school system. Mentors should ask the new teacher lots of questions, especially before the school year begins if possible, to encourage the new teacher to consider planning and procedure in different ways. Where did you get this idea? What are you trying to accomplish? What are your expectations from the students? their families? the administration? etc. My mentor teacher rules - she is always available to listen to my frustrated rants - not always right away, but she makes time for it. And when I finally pause for breath, she first says, "That's interesting. What are you thinking of doing about it?" BEFORE she just offers suggestions. Getting that kind of respect from someone that I respect is very encouraging!

I've read in several places that teacher improvement due to experience tends to plateau after about five years. (Alas, I cannot cite my sources - soooo sorry!) I am determined that I will NOT stagnate. However, I haven't reached that point yet, so I don't really have any personal experience to share.

What can teachers do to continue to pursue excellence? What can administrators do to facilitate it?


Mrs. Chili said...

You may have seen the "what should be included in Gen. Ed.s?" post on one of my sites - I did some ruminating about that a while back, but I never got much feedback.

You're really on to something. New teachers are generally thrown unceremoniously to the proverbial wolves, and with the pittance we receive as compensation and the deplorable lack of support and guidance we get from our peers and administration, it's really no wonder that most people don't stay in the profession. It's really kind of a no-brainer, really...

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