Related: Civil & Human Rights, Education, Faculty, Living, Politics, Social Issues, Students

Who Will Teach? More Faculty Voices

 
 

Yesterday, I met with the School of Education Faculty to discuss the current situation with school reform, teacher education, and ways in which Trinity might take a more prominent role in contributing to new models for educational success in our city.   The faculty is eager to move ahead with genuine transformation of our work in education and counseling — and great ideas abound!  Secretary Duncan’s call to action is resonating at Trinity, and this will have a very productive long-term impact on our effectiveness in educating school leaders, teachers, counselors and others.

Dr. Amy Brereton wrote a comment on my previous blog about Secretary Duncan’s speech at Columbia, and what she has to say is so important that I’m bringing it forward for consideration here, see below….. And, what do YOU think?   Please join this discussion by clicking on the “comments” link below, or send me your thoughts in an email to president@trinitydc.edu

Here’s Dr. Brereton’s comment:

Secretary Duncan’s speech at Columbia Teacher’s College has provided us (schools of education) with an opportunity to reflect on the work we do. Like President McGuire, I agree with several of the points Secretary Duncan made. The faculty in Trinity’s School of Education have embraced this opportunity to discuss our work and how we can continue to support and train the excellent teacher candidates enrolled in our programs. We have identified a need for collaboration.

A culture of blame has dominated discussions about education in the United States. Children are blamed. Parents are blamed. President McGuire’s blog describes the unproductive blame that has been heaped on teachers. Secretary Duncan’s address indicates that schools of education are to blame. This culture of blame cultivates division and operates from a deficit perspective.

It is imperative that we move beyond blame. Parents, teachers, schools of education, and children all have powerful expertise that can inform and transform educational practices. The most innovative and impressive educational approaches and models (i.e. Waldorf, Froeble, Reggio Emilia, Montessori) view children as strong learners, parents as essential partners, and teachers as capable professionals.

We face incredible challenges. We have some choices. We can continue to face these challenges in isolation, doing all we can to deflect the blame that is flung at us, or we can take collective ownership of our children’s education. We can continue looking to the ‘other’ as the source of ‘school failure’, or we can take heart in knowing that we have vast resources at our disposal in the form of parents, teachers, schools of education, and children…especially children.

Unfortunately, collaboration is not easy to achieve. It demands parity. Are we ready to listen and consider the opinions of parents and children with the same level of seriousness that we listen to and consider the views of policy makers? As the faculty’s response to President McGuire’s blog indicates, we recognize the need for civil discourse about improving education and we are keen to take our seat at the discussion table. The question is: What must we do to ensure that we are not sitting there alone?

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2 Responses to Who Will Teach? More Faculty Voices

  1. My main headache as a preschool teacher of 23+ years is that blame is fostered every where you look. People are driven to blame and NOT accept responsibility right from the start.

    The reason I love this age group is they are only just starting to become affected, and I still have a chance to catch them before they are corrupted by the media, poor parenting and the like.

    My biggest problem, even at this early age is getting the support of parents, especially if the child has been labelled with an “ism” or “disorder”.

    A lot give up unforunately, right when early action is the most effective.

    I believe good education is a “whole of society” responsibility, and until you can somehow force the various sectors to take responsibility for their bit of the puzzle, it will stay an exasperating struggle at best. Unless you are a preschool teacher that is …

  2. Deborah Litt says:

    I would like to add some comments about the role of institutional constraints in hindering improvement in our most troubled school systems.

    Yes, there are ineffective, discouraged and burnt-out teachers. There are individuals whose insufficient knowledge or mean-spirited attitude toward young people should have disqualified them from entering the profession in the first place. And, yes, teacher education programs could and should be doing a better job preparing teachers, especially in preparing teachers for teaching in schools with high concentrations of children living in poverty. But blaming all the ills of our least effective school systems on bad teachers or the preparation they have received, not only ignores the life circumstances of so many of our children living in poverty as President McGuire stated in her blog, but ignores the powerful interaction between teachers and settings in which they are placed.

    Teacher educators across the country bemoan the fact that what future teachers, particularly middle and secondary teachers, learn in Schools of Education often attenuates–or is even summarily cast off–once the new teachers begin work in settings with high percentages of high-need students. (It is one of the paradoxes of American education that the students most in need of student-centered and individually tailored curricula are least likely to receive it.)

    Institutional constraints and the power of tradition exert an enormous influence upon new teachers. School system mandates and building norms and traditions may press against “best practice” ideas learned in Schools of Education. Taught that students need “just right” books in order to make progress in reading, the new teacher is confronted with one school board-mandated grade-level textbook for all students whether or not the children are capable of reading that text. What is the new (untenured) teacher to do when confronted with a mandatory whole class scripted (the teacher reads a script verbatim) curricula, or with pacing guides that leave some students hopelessly behind and other hopelessly bored? Or when told to devote an hour a day—an hour a day!—to test-taking practice rather than instruction and practice in core subjects.

    New teachers may feel isolated from colleagues if they try to conduct classes in a more student-centered manner than is common in their setting. Or their proposals for activities to bring families into the building may meet with a “we know better it will never happen” response. Even the students often resist new approaches, especially if they are required to work harder than they have been accustomed to. In Seymour Sarason’s seminal analysis (1971) of school reform, The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change, Sarason points out that there’s an unwritten contract between the students and the teachers in most high schools—don’t challenge us intellectually and we won’t give you trouble. Most new teachers conform to the culture of the school they find themselves in, afraid to lose their jobs or uncomfortable with isolation from the community they find themselves in. (This is one reason Teach for America places more than one teacher in a building.)

    One could argue that if what new teachers learn is quickly abandoned then the Schools of Education are not doing their jobs properly. And there is something to be said for that. Maybe the Schools of Education need to find ways to influence school boards, state boards of education, and the federal Department of Education so that policies and administrative practices are not working at cross-purposes with solid classroom instruction. Certainly, Schools of Education need to equip newly minted teachers with the skills to advocate for better practices in their buildings. My colleagues here at Trinity believe we need to do more to build the capacity for advocacy among our students, but we have a long way to go.

    Longer and more intense mentorships between true master teachers and prospective teachers in schools serving high proportions of high needs students are a proven method of making new teachers more skilled and more resistant to forces undermining their good practices. But, school systems often do not want a truly collaborative relationship with a School of Education; they are often unwilling to allow Schools of Education to select the mentor teachers or to give student teachers much responsibility for fear of lower test scores. Schools of Education will need to figure out how to leverage their power to assure that their students obtain the very best apprenticeship experience possible. More Schools of Education should consider models in which support for new teachers continues during a new teacher’s first few years in the classroom.

    We must also ask if there sufficient truly master level teachers in the lowest performing school districts to mentor and nurture the many new teachers we will soon need. If not, Schools of Education have an important role to play in capacity building. But, Institutions of Higher Education have institutional constraints of their own. Universities traditionally reward faculty members for publishing and for service within the university. How would follow-up support for recent graduates or providing professional development to teachers in a public school fit the university’s vision of faculty work?

    I raise these issues because I do not believe it possible to “fix” troubled schools by working on only one element of a complex interaction.

    Finally, while acknowledging that there are some truly bad apples in any school system, there is a much larger group of teachers who are performing below their capacity because they discouraged, tired, underappreciated, playing it safe, or need some training in new approaches. These teachers can be inspired by strong leadership and ongoing professional development. Schools where teachers learn together, where their ideas and hard work are appreciated, where they work collaboratively to solve problems and make their schools exciting places to learn are rewarding and exciting places to work. Make our schools vibrant learning communities for teachers, and we will create, attract, and retain the talented, dedicated teachers we so desperately need.

    The assumption that teachers can create and maintain those conditions which make school learning and school living stimulating for children, without those same conditions existing for teachers, has no warrant in the history of man. (pp. 123-124)
    Seymour Sarason (1972), The Creation of Settings and the Future Societies

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: president@trinitydc.edu