Friday, August 22, 2008

Rocking Out In One Day Magazine

My essay on the "reinvention" of teaching appears in the summer issue of Teach For America's alumni magazine One Day. The original text is below; the print version, edited by One Day's staff and witty-email-composing editor-in-chief, may be slightly different.

(I kinda wanted to complain that none of the featured essays on this topic were penned by current classroom teachers, but then I realized I was supposed to fill that particular quota, and pulled a little bait-and-switch on the One Day folks. My b., yo).

If “Profession” Is the Butterfly, We Are the Larva

Teaching is not a profession. It is a never-ending entry-level vocation, divorced from foundational understandings of training, accountability, and advancement. If we are to enact meaningful reform, we must rescue teaching from its status as vocation and volunteerism, and recast it as a profession of rigor, creativity, and unlimited impact.

It is not uncommon to hear teachers dismiss their credentialing programs as useless and ineffective. You’ve never heard a doctor make this statement. Doctors, pilots, and plumbers are not expected, as teachers are, to learn their profession on the run, by trial-and-error, by searching for ideas on the Internet, or by attending disparate workshops. Teacher preparation is trapped in a dichotomy of insufficiency. Traditional route programs train teachers on generic skill sets insufficient for the incredible language, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity found within urban classrooms. Yet, alternative route programs require prohibitive amounts of on-the-job learning that is impractical and frequently ineffective. Neither approach effectively prepares career teachers for the rigors of high-need urban classrooms.

We need a third way, one built upon the medical residency model, combining training in highly specialized skills with the time needed to fully merge theory and praxis. All prospective urban educators need time to learn from and work with a proven mentor, develop their teaching in meaningful and accountable ways, and engage in coursework that acknowledges and reflects the differences between teaching in Marin and teaching in West Oakland. These Resident teachers would work for an entire academic year with an Attending teacher, participating in the full range of professional responsibilities from the first day of school, eventually taking ownership of all aspects of complete units of study.

This provides a far more authentic model of student teaching, rescuing it from unaccountable summer school and end-of-the-year contexts. It allows Resident teachers the most complete and accurate training possible, one that omits no aspect of the job, and provides the most extensive arena for skill development. Perhaps most importantly, it allows Residents to learn first-hand from a proven Attending teacher, and see the application of effective teaching within the exact context the Resident teachers will one day work.

Evaluation and accountability
Teaching is, at its core, a simple and direct act. Here are kids, a room, and some tools: At the end of the school day, what is the increase in knowledge, the sharpness of analysis, and the refinement of skill? What can the students do and how much better can they do it now? As a teacher, what did you do here, exactly?

Our profession continues to struggle with this essential understanding of our work, failing to connect compensation or even continued employment to educator effectiveness. We must institute evaluation measures that value outputs over inputs. We must develop merit pay and accountability systems that make improvement a professional imperative rather than an act of personal pride. We must invest site administration with the power to hire the teachers they want and fire those they don’t. Until then, we will continue to function less like a profession, and more like rec-league T-ball, where everyone gets to swing but no one keeps score.

Differentiated roles
Teaching suffers from a lack of career development and meaningful acknowledgement of success and accomplishment. To rectify this, we need promotions for teachers that do not require them to stop being teachers. Teachers with the ability to guide peers, develop instructional models, or assume site-based leadership must be offered these opportunities in conjunction with a reduced, but continuing, classroom role.

What limitations – beyond inertia – prevent the creation of the teacher/ vice-principal, the teacher/ curriculum designer, the teacher/ data analyst? Such hybrid roles exist in small, isolated numbers, but more often than not, the assumption of greater leadership responsibilities exists as something added-on to existing teaching responsibilities. This limits overall effectiveness, and encourages martyrdom and burnout, forcing teacher-leaders to either dramatically increase their professional responsibilities or make an inauthentic choice between the classroom and the front office. By seeking the creation of diverse and varied teaching positions, we expand the scope of professional development and advancement, keep talented leaders working directly with kids, and begin to address the problematic issue of mid-career teacher retention.

The achievement gap can only be closed by professionalizing teaching, and eliminating the educator achievement gap—that distance between the teachers we are, and the teachers our students need us to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The medical profession model is right on. If you haven't already check out "The Millennium School Model" proposed by Troen and Boles in Who's Teaching Your Children? It's a solid starting point for reconceptualizing the profession and several east coast (but small) districts looked into implementing it and some even tried several of the suggestions.

-Eric DeSobe

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this idea as long as measures are in place to:

a) prevent residents from being

b) control the quality of the
residency experience

One way to structure the residency would be around data-based decision making for an increasingly large group. Perhaps the resident could start off by following a few students through screening, instructional decision making, progress monitoring, etc., and gradually assume more responsibility for larger groups of students.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous David Cohen (fellow TLN member) said...

You couldn't say it much more succinctly than that. Well done. Along with the comment about adding some protections on the "residency" side, I'd add some protections on how a teacher can be let go. We need some protections. There are teachers who annoy administrators but do excellent work in the classroom. Maybe a panel of teachers and administrators making that decision (there are such systems in a few places already). Teachers long ago negotiated, by necessity, an exchange of earnings for job security. If we're going to negotiate away the job security, and I'm open to that, then we need the compensation - not only some type of performance pay, but higher base salaries.

9:05 AM  
Blogger KB said...

@Eric: Thanks for the lead. I'll check it out.

@anon: We hit both your controls by really focusing on the recruitment and training of the Attending/Mentor teachers. By finding folks who are stellar educators, exemplary practioners, who ALSO have the inclination and ability to share, collaborate, model, and lead, we'll not only have identified an elite teacher corps, we'll have ensured Residents are working with the absolute best. This of course, is easier said than done, and it represents the biggest challenge to scaling a project like this up.

@David: I agree entirely, and I also think we can do a much better job of balancing that security-compensation see-saw.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

TMAO, I disagree with you on a lot of things, but not on this. I think this is excellent. (No, that doesn't mean you have to go back and re-think everything.)

3:09 AM  
Blogger KB said...

Seriously, Dennis, you're freaking me out. We agree on those three issues? I feel okay, but maybe YOU need to take some time...

10:16 AM  
Blogger TeachMoore said...

This is one of the best statements of the teacher ed dilemma I've seen (and I've seen quite a few). I think the residency model is one idea not only has great potential for urban schools, but for us in the rural schools as well. One of the major causes for failure of new teachers here in the Miss Delta--be they traditionally trained or wide-eyed TFA types-- is the cultural shock many experience when they move into this area (many of them come to us from somewhere else).
The mentor piece here also forces some to (finally) admit there are highly effective teachers out here already who are in the best position to train new members of our profession.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that differentiated roles would help solve a problem, but I don't know that it's the best solution.

I think the problem is that teachers don't have lots of easy ways to earn professional recognition. This is a situation where a mediocre teacher will be upset that there aren't opportunities for recognition / promotion, but a high-achieving teacher will go find or create those opportunities: creating resources to share online, mentoring other teachers, etc.

Tween positions where a teacher supervises other teachers are the norm in my school, but an expansion of that concept is an expansion of middle-management at the expense of taking quality teachers out of the classroom. Also, the Peter Principle comes into play and rewarding our best teachers with promotions that reduce their classroom time doesn't make sense.

Society used to have an appreciation for staying in one position for a long time, and improving your skills. As a recent grad, my friends all pressure me to apply for higher-level jobs in other districts, but right here in this entry-level job is where I think I can do the most to help, so I'm in no hurry to leave.

10:07 AM  
Blogger doyle said...

I need to think a bit, but I was a pediatric resident in an inner city hospital for 4 years, then a fellow in NYC.

Now I teach, fully credentialed.

Residency now isn't what it was, at least not when I left medicine 3 years ago.

But I will say this--a lot of children were hurt/destroyed/killed in the process of making me (and others) good docs. Inner city residencies in the 1980's did that.

So we need to talk. Maybe privately until I get my thoughts together.

7:35 PM  
Blogger KB said...


sure, let's chat. My email is teachingmyassoff [at] hotmail [dot] com

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Eric (from long ago) said...


How about an Ed Trust gloss on your essay? While the original speaks to the prompt ("reinvention"), policymakers need help now. How, for example, can ineffective and insufficient professional development be fixed? What materials ought an Attending teacher provide? Is this exclusively mentoring (classroom management, lesson study, etc.) or would new teachers benefit from a clearer, better organized course of study? What exemplars can be captured on video? What can ed schools do this year so schoolchildren are more successful next year? How big a hole do we dig if teacher preparation programs ignore feedback from the teachers they prepare?

You've provided lots of good information; how does it get bundled up for a new ed school dean, Governor, Chancellor, or State Superintendent of Public Instruction?

8:38 AM  
Anonymous S said...

rock out with your cock out.


6:03 AM  
Blogger just a teacher said...

Going through withdrawal here, where are you blogging these days? How is EdTrust?

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Training, accountability, differentiated roles ... unfortunately there are more categories/parameters that must improve for "teacher reinvention" to be achieved.
The web and its influence, particularly on students, will play a role in the "teacher reinvention" process. Reaching the goal will take time and teachers + students should pursue the journey together.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Judy Jacob said...

I have been following your blog for sometime... though this is my first comment here.

Thought would drop by and send you this site for your opinion before I start using it with my class.

11:49 PM  

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