“The Teaching Career”,
edited by John I. Goodlad & Timothy J. McMannon
Here’s something that should be on the required summer reading lists for principals, school board members, education professors, and anyone else who has professional responsibility for training, recruiting and retaining teachers.
This book, which is part of the Teachers College series on school reform, addresses the compelling topic of what happens (or, more usually, what doesn’t happen) with new teachers. With 55 per cent of teachers leaving the profession within the first five years, clearly there’s room for improvement.
As the text states, “Attracting young people to teaching is not enough to ensure that all classrooms in our nation’s schools are staffed by caring, qualified and capable teachers.”
Far from it. Unless these new teachers are properly supported once they are launched into classrooms of their own, it’s unlikely that those high rates of turnover are likely to be changed any time soon.
Some of the problems identified here include the disconnect between university and college teacher preparation programs from what really happens in the classroom; the lack of follow-through on mentoring programs, even the pursuit of professional development opportunities that have more to do with a teacher’s personal interests than the needs of his students.
The book focuses on the 1999 Strengthening and Sustaining Teachers Initiative, a five-year project that has been coordinated by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future; The Teacher Union Reform Network, The Institute for Educational Inquiry, Bank Street College and the University of Washington. The program was developed to build support systems for teachers in Portland, Maine; Albuquerque, New Mexico and Seattle, Washington, whose teachers and schools provide the data and anecdotes contained here.
The thesis is that all educational institutions need to build new relationships among previously separated stakeholders—meaning that the public schools, the universities, the unions, professional organizations, even school boards, have to work together on a congruent agenda to ensure the success of both teachers and students. One suggestion would be an expansion of “teaching schools”, analogous to academic “teaching hospitals”, where new teachers could learn from experienced practitioners so that ultimately students benefit. New teachers in particular need to see themselves, and be seen by others, as “learners,” to be more effective in the classroom.
For the reality is that teachers can’t simply close their classroom doors and teach students according to their own carefully developed pedagogical philosophy. Between state standards, federal mandates, high stakes testing, budget constraints and other factors that influence what goes on in schools, teachers inevitably have to work with colleagues, principals, superintendents, school board members, and even parents.
As the authors argue, in a discussion of partner (or laboratory) schools, “Students who historically have been poorly served by our nation’s schools will not be better served by educators doing the same, but more so and better. Students will be better served when we uncover the beliefs and assumptions that are getting in our way of reaching them. There is little evidence that school-university partnerships in general are promoting second-order change regarding teaching and learning—challenging deeply held beliefs and assumptions so that powerful new approaches to schooling arise.”
Of course, the news is not all bleak.
“This nation is blessed with a core of competent, well-qualified, dedicated, caring teachers whose presence goes far toward sustaining what arguably is the most stable institution in our changing, dynamic society.”
So here’s that summer assignment: read this, and come back ready to implement, or at least discuss, some of these authors’ compelling arguments in September, so that real change can begin to take place.#