Sunday, April 02, 2006

Teacher Prep

The following is a reflection paper written for Dr. Mullins.

The questions and issues raised in Teacher Quality and the Question of Preparation are extremely important. At a base level the questions that arises are: What makes a good teacher? How much training is needed for a successful teacher? When should the training take place? What is “highly qualified”? I look around my school, I am hard-pressed to find good examples. More so than the teachers, I am hard-pressed to find stellar leadership from all levels of the administration. And I know that I am not alone. Teaching in a critical shortage school, where perhaps thirty to forty percent of the teachers will not be coming back, I am well aware of how hard it is stay in the field of teaching. Knowing that the principal and superintendent will have to look hard to find replacements, I am at a loss as to their behavior. Why would they be anything but supportive knowing that they will have to find new applicants after they drive the first year teachers away. Being supportive is in their best interest. New teachers should be treated as an investment for each district. Amazing programs to train and retain teachers are created, but until the individual school districts find good leaders, the shortages will remain.
I always thought that teaching was a lot more of an individual effort. My thinking was naïve. Although I still feel that one teacher can make a difference—one student at a time, those efforts are limited by the tone set at the administration level. Young, idealistic teachers are often targets for administrators who feel threatened by newcomers who have little to lose by taking a stand. The older teachers, fearful for their jobs, do exactly what the principals ask. Our school has had two principals and I have watched as veteran teachers jumped through the contradicting and conflicting hoops of both leaders. Why not seek out and promote creativity and ideas from new faculty?
Students also receive mixed messages from administrators. When instructional time is not valued, the students will not value instruction no matter how hard teachers try. I never imagined the amount of interruptions, unplanned assemblies, etc. that plague my school. I am not placing all the blame on the leaders of schools, however if they have high expectations and operate in more regard for the students and the teachers, then literally level of the school would rise accordingly.
Even though the questions raised in the article centered on teacher training, a lot of the real training happens at the experiential level on the job. That is the bottom line. Therefore, the leadership of the school district becomes responsible for the training of new teachers, not the colleges and universities. As I said new teachers should be regarded as an investment for each district. If young, idealistic teachers felt their ideas and enthusiasm were validated (especially by the principal) they would stay in teaching. If new teacher orientation at each school was well-structured, teachers would stay in teaching. If the adminstration handled discipline issues well, classroom management would follow, and teachers would stay in teaching. I could go on and on. I am not trying to imply that school leadership is the sole factor in a good school or in making good teachers, however the problem does not occur in recruitment. Recruitment and selection criteria are very selective, TFA, for example, only accepts one in eight applicants. The problem occurs on the job, after the fact; when high hopes are met with unprofessional administrations.
The Equity Myth
Is equity the answer? My answer is still yes, despite reading the article on Edgewood. I agree with the statements from Jimmy Vasquez, “Everyone wants a quick fix, but there is no miracle for Edgewood…You can’t erase generations of poverty, oppression, and racism in a single decade.” His statements hit home. Of course more money isn’t the only answer, but it certainly helps. And well-spent money probably makes the most difference. Sometimes when I look at my school and how much federal money goes into it and how little ends up helping, I feel like the situation rivals those Save the Children scams to help starving children. Of course low-income school districts are more prone to be victims of fraud. They are easy targets because no one in looking. I don’t even want to think of about the kind of crazy construction contracts that have been made. All of that aside, nonetheless, I am still not willing to accept one example of a school receiving equal funding as an argument that money does not make a difference in the educational experience of school children. I remember debating on what college to go to and weighing the cost differences between colleges. I remember my mother telling me, “With education, you get what you pay for.” And it is true. What is also true is that change takes an incredible amount of time. Since becoming a teacher I am much more willing to accept this. Maybe in another twenty years Edgewood will have much higher test scores and graduation rates similar to those in a richer school district.

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