Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A new idea for Teacher Training

I believe studies that say that the most important, controllable factor in a child’s education is being in the classroom of a highly motivated, well-trained teacher. I believe that current education reforms aimed at achieving this are misguided and heading for disastrous, unintended consequences.

Current educational reform efforts are overly focused on the idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece comparing finding talented teachers to finding talented NFL players from the hundreds of college teams. In a nutshell, Gladwell posits that there is no reliable way to pre-determine who will and will not be talented before seeing players/teachers in action for a year or two. Gladwell’s proposal is to end teacher job security, and place hundreds of teachers in classrooms each year, keeping the ones who seem to be successful.

I see two major flaws in his proposal.

First, unlike NFL players, teachers do not sign a lucrative enough contract to bridge them from an unsuccessful tryout to their next career, nor are teachers paid nearly enough to attract the most talented applicants available. Instead, we count on an inner spark, or emotional desire to teach to attract young talent.

Second, the training that teachers receive is far too removed from their actual day-to-day practice when they enter their careers. College prospects are at least playing very-nearly the same game and their professional counterparts. Gladwell’s analogy is perhaps closer to scouting college baseball teams looking for NFL prospects.

Compensating teachers at a rate closer to what other professionals can expect is perhaps a solution to the talent-attraction problem. If teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area could expect the same $60,000 to $70,000 starting salary as their business-professional counterparts and could look forward to $100,000 to $120,000 top earning potential, then our profession might attract some of the top talent that is currently more attracted to business.

Training emerging teaching in a longer, more intensive way would go a long way to approximating teacher training to similar professions.

I propose that teaching interns be placed with cooperating/master teachers for a three-year experience. The first year would be intensive training in pedagogy and classroom management that the teaching candidate could see modeled in their mater teacher’s classroom. The second year would be a paid internship where the master teacher and candidate shared responsibilities for a group of students. The candidate could plan units of study and individual lessons with the help of their master teacher. The candidate could also receive on-going training in educational psychology and sociology. Finally, in the third year, candidates would begin a one or two year residency, being paid lower wages, but completely in control of their classrooms and intensively evaluated by the school administration, their master teacher, and their peers. After passing a Bar-exam-like experience, then the newly tenured teacher would receive a large bump in salary – the big pay-off to warrant this now-more difficult journey into the profession.

In one way, Gladwell would get his way. Master teachers, school administrations, local communities, and the candidate her/himself would have ample opportunities to decide that this profession was not a good fit. Newly tenured teachers would be far better trained and prepared for the real job of teaching children. At the same time, the profession of teaching would finally be compensated like comparable professions. Best of all, students would have better-trained teachers who were far more likely to stay in the classroom far beyond the typical 5-year mark that presently sees 50% of our young professionals wash-out.

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