A New, Old Approach to Teacher Prep

There is value to all educators demonstrating a broad range of writing skills, world literature knowledge, foreign language aptitude, elementary epistemology, and exposure to math, natural sciences, history and geography, and government and economics. This approach is critical to ensuring strong and nimble teachers, particularly if this background content is knitted together to provide a clear scope and sequence of the first two years of undergraduate courses for aspiring educators.

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest on Medium, looking at making a classically liberal education a foundation for teacher prep

For the Next Gen of Teacher Candidates, Content Should be King

With many public school systems now entering week 10 of their new coronavirus normal, as community school buildings remain shuttered and millions of students try to learn through digital platforms, talk of “the return” to the good ol’ days is growing louder and louder.

Sure, some continue to declare their success in mastering virtual education, but far more are trying to prepare for what traditional school will look like in a traditional environment for the 2020-21 school year. Images of students wearing facemasks and distancing contraptions have already started to fill social media, as educators come to grips with months of lost instruction due to Covid-19, a virtual learning environment offered largely to tread instructional water instead of teaching new content. In response, some are calling for summer school for all to avoid the expected slide from the current to the next school year while others suggest the need to repeat the current grade.

Last week, Chiefs for Change – a group of reform-minded public school superintendents and school administrators – offered a thoughtful report on what school leaders should consider as they look toward the return of a school-building-based instructional year this fall. In The Return: How Should School Leaders Prepare for Reentry and Beyond?, the Chiefs explore a number of important – and controversial – topics, ranging from abandoning the agrarian school calendar (one that currently gives educators and learners summers off) to more “intently focusing on the social and emotional wellbeing and skills of students.”

More interestingly, Chiefs for Change called for school systems across the country to adopt staffing models that focused on educators with deep subject matter and instructional expertise. Yes, this spring’s virtual schooling experiment has demonstrated that the pedagogy and classroom management skills largely taught in colleges of education across the nation do not necessarily translate to teachers successfully managing a virtual classroom on an online platform. For every media story one sees of an elementary school classroom taught via Zoom, with a shared screen that looks like the Brady Bunch on steroids, there are dozens of untold stories of online platforms being used simply as electronic bulletin boards, where teachers simply post assignments for students to collect and complete, providing a thumbs up when any effort is demonstrated by the learner to complete them.

In its recommendations, Chiefs for Change also pulls back a closely-held secret in teacher education. Many teachers are not expert in the content areas they teach. Those who teach U.S. history, for instance, often major in history education, not in American history. The same can be said about those who teach chemistry or biology, the majority of whom leave their teacher education programs with degrees in science education, not in the specific content area. One can even consider the typical elementary school educator, tasked with teaching reading and math and beginning science while equipped with a degree in elementary education that likely provided only some survey courses on a range of content areas, with an emphasis on needed physical classroom management skills.

For years now, reformers have preached about the need to dramatically transform pre-service teacher education. In the early days, the focus was on alternative certification programs and having teacher candidates avoid the “status quo” teachers colleges altogether. More recently, advocates have looked to alternative approaches to traditional teacher education models, with institutions like the Relay/Graduate School of Education becoming the aspirational model.

Decades of research into the most effective approaches to teacher education demonstrate the importance of both strong content knowledge and effective pedagogy. When groups like Chiefs for Change talk about content knowledge, they are essentially noting that novice teachers should be coming to the classroom with a broad and substantial liberal education, one that translates into strong content knowledge of classroom teachers, regardless of the academic subject they are licensed to teach.

A first glance, we may be looking for too much from undergraduate teacher education, expecting all aspiring educators to start as teachers of record with strong, research-based backgrounds in both the subject areas they teach and the most effective ways to teach and lead a classroom. Our new educational normal, though, has clearly demonstrated that the current emphasis on pedagogy and classroom management is woefully insufficient for the uncertain years ahead.

The coming generations of k-12 educators may be digital natives, but they are largely still being prepared in teachers colleges constructed for an analog world. Until their clinical experiences include virtual instruction, and until their preparation focuses on the importance of subject matter content and how to make it interesting, relevant, and understood by all in their classroom, our instructional struggles will continue.

We can do better. We should do better. Ed schools should be committed to preparing world-class educators. School districts should be focused on hiring teachers well prepared in both content and pedagogy, with the assessments to demonstrate their mastery of both. And we all should embrace efforts to ensure our kids’ teachers are truly the best in the world, with the preservice education, in-service supports, and high-quality instructional materials needed for learners to succeed today … and tomorrow.

 

(This piece also appears on Medium.)

Transforming Teacher Education

“We can’t expect an English teacher to teach without access to literature. We can’t expect a music teacher to teach without employing actual music. We can’t expect a history teacher to teach without a working knowledge of the past. It’s common sense that we provide teachers with the knowledge and tools needed to effectively teach. That means more than just the necessary novel sets or science labs. It also includes a comprehensive preparation program that begins when they first set foot on a college campus and continues until they have become a teacher of record.”

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest over at the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper, where I write on the need to overhaul teacher education as we look at our post-coronavirus school needs

Appreciating Teachers, Including My Mom

Teacher Appreciation Week has a bit of a different meaning for many of us this year. The past two months have recast k-12 education in ways few of us have planned for. Amid all of the news stories of parents who have grown past frustrated with this new era of virtual education and tales of teacher “parades” and six-feet apart visits with students who need them the most, there are some important lessons many are learning about what goes into effective teaching and what skills and knowledge teachers today (and tomorrow) need to properly adapt to anything that might be thrown in their way.

In addition to the policy implications, Teacher Appreciation Week also provides the opportunity to reflect on those k-12 educators who have had the greatest impact on me as a both a learner and a contributing member of the great American citizenry. For me, I find it incredibly difficult to single out one teacher worthy of thanks.  I think of Mr. Wolf, my second grade teacher and the first “boy teacher” I had.  Or Mr. Ertmer, who taught me both economics and world history and also got me to DC for the first time through Close Up.  Or Ms. Walker (now Mrs. Sowers), my AP English teacher and student government advisor who let me question whether or not Shakespeare was really worth all the hype.

I’m also a firm believer that parents are our first teacher, and they are often our most important.  So in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, I need to recognize Mrs. Riccards, my mother and a damned good high school English teacher in her own right.  I was never privileged to have my mom as a teacher (that would have been too grand a punishment for such a terrific woman).  But to this day, both in my personal and my professional lives, I reflect on the lessons she taught me and her experiences in the classroom.

My mother joined the teaching profession as a mid-career.  When my youngest sister hit school age, my mom went back to school to get her teaching certificate.  She student taught at an Indian school in New Mexico. She went on to teach 10thgrade English at urban, rural, and suburban schools in New Mexico, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. My mother taught in traditional public schools, charter schools, and independent schools.

She walked the picket lines in West Virginia for two weeks, striking with every NEA teacher across the state for better pay and working conditions (they succeeded).  She was a tough teacher, always pushing her students and demanding hard work.  While many would try, no one could get her to compromise her standards, not even for star athletes, relentless parents, or administrators who didn’t want the hassle.  As a result, her students learned and achieved.  She probably had the greatest impact on all of the “basic” students she taught over the years, kids that many people had given up on, but she wouldn’t.  She pushed them, and they responded.  They learned the five-paragraph essay.  They learned American literature.  And they learned responsibility and to set high expectations for themselves.

And me?  My mom was the first to point out I have a tendency to write in the passive voice.  At an early age, she made clear she and my father would never pay for grades.  “You don’t earn them for me, they are for you,” she would say.  She has always been proud of me, encouraging and pushing me.  But she is also quick to tell me when I am being too hard on teachers, when my expectations of school improvement are out of line, or when my position didn’t align with what a classroom teacher experiences.

So in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week (and this weekend’s Mother’s Day), I offer a big thank you to a truly terrific teacher, Mrs. Riccards (or Ma, or Grandma at this point).  Know you are both loved and appreciated by generations of students who are better off for having crossed your path (no matter how tough you may have been in that classroom).

As I reflect on those teachers, including my parents, that have had the most lasting of impacts on me, I can now see some key attributes that made them enormously successful as educators. They all received rigorous, comprehensive educations that provided them with a broad higher education experience that prepared them for any challenge in the classroom. They all believed in a collaborative approach, working closely with families, with community leaders, and even with higher education to strengthen and improve the teaching and learning process. And they were all firm believes in “lifelong learning,” recognizing that their pursuit of both content knowledge and pedagogy did not end once they earned their masters degrees in achieved tenure. They all knew one learns across a lifetime, not for a finite period, and they passed that lesson on to all those learners they encountered.

Decades of research have shown that the single-most important factor in school success is an effective teacher. One of the reasons I do what I now do – focusing on how to improve educator preparation to ensure more effective teachers and more engaged learners – is because I had some of those effective teachers, those best in the world teachers. They made a real difference for me, and I believe that ever learner – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – should have similarly life-changing teachers in their lives.

Those life-changing educators are the ones that every parent overseeing virtual home school today is trying to challenge. And they are teachers we should remember each and every day.

(This post also appeared on Medium.)

 

Evaluating Teachers? During Lockdown?

With most schools closed for coronavirus, so many of us are longing for a return to normal. While none of us know what the post-covid new normal may be, we expect it will include many of our tried-and-true activities and behaviors.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that some school districts are still looking at how to conduct traditional teacher evaluations, even when there is nothing traditional about school today. No, we shouldn’t be surprised, but we should be appalled.

Over on the BAM! Radio Network, we discuss what a bad idea teacher evaluations a la lockdown are, and how we really need to direct our attentions elsewhere. Give it a listen!

Of Reading Proficiency and Civil Rights

“Literacy is an educational right. Every learner needs to be reading at grade level by fourth grade. The science is clear on how to best teach young children to read. Our educators and the teacher education programs that prepare them must adapt and transform to embrace both these obligations and the science on effective instruction.”

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest commentary on Project Forever Free, detailing the latest court ruling declaring Detroit students are constitutionally guaranteed a basic education, including literacy.

Give it a read! And give Project Forever Free a follow.

It’s Time for Reading Rights

“Producing a strong research study that collects dust on the shelf can hardly win the day. For generations now, we have fought ideological skirmishes over literacy instruction, watching the pendulum swing as classroom educators simply waited it out until the latest “hot” thing lost favor and classrooms returned to what they were previously doing. If we truly want to declare a reading victory and tout our collective instructional successes, we need to commit to some basic truths.”

From Eduflack’s latest for The 74 Million

What Should Come Next?

Across the nation, schools and educators are doing everything they can to react to the new normal that is our covid society. For most, that has meant shifting to virtual education and trying to deliver existing lesson plans online.

It’s only natural that this past month – and likely the next two or three – will largely be reactive to the current circumstances. It what if were to spend the summer being proactive, using the warmest of months to focus on educator professional development and how best to empower teachers to take full advantage of the new instructional world likely before ya?

https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/managing-the-evolving-new-normal-reactive-versus-proactive/Dear ol’ Eduflack explores this topic on the latest episode of TrumpEd on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!

Basic Skills for Teachers?

For years (and years and years) now, we have been hearing horror stories about the teacher pipeline and an inability to get good educators in the classroom, particularly in those classrooms that need them the most.

There are almost a many ideas for addressing the pipeline issue as there are Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination. Dear ol’ Eduflack has been involved on several of them, including the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship program, an effort that had transformed teacher preparation in six states and at 31 universities, and the creation of a new, competency-based graduate school of education focused on teaching mastery.

With efforts like these, the focus has been raising standards, hiking expectations, and ensuring aspiring teachers are spending as much time as possible in k-12 classrooms. At no point did we consider eliminating accountability or dropping the bar.

Yet that seems to be what Florida is currently looking at, as the state legislature explores eliminating the basic skills test for teachers to be. <insert shaking head and face palm here>

As Jeffrey Solochek reports in today’s Tampa Times:

Patrick Riccards, chief strategy officer for the New Jersey-based Woodrow Wilson Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers several teaching fellowships, found it ironic that Florida would consider lowering its criteria to become a teacher at the same time it touts its efforts to fill classrooms with the “best and brightest.”

In Texas, he said, some teacher preparation programs have become adept at reducing expectations as a way to find more educators. The problem, Riccards said, is those new teachers don’t always last very long. 

Then schools have to go look again.

Teachers want to be treated as professionals, he added. Not passing a basic skills test doesn’t seem to match up with that goal.

Give the full article a read. And let’s share a collective weep for the future of teacher education in the Sunshine State.

Investing in the Future of #TeacherEd

As a community, we spend so much time thinking and talking about what the schools, classrooms, and students of tomorrow may look like, but we often overlook an essential component to the equation. What will the teacher education of the future look like, the educator prep necessary to ensure we have the classroom leaders for such future K-12 environments.

For the past four years, dear ol’ Eduflack has been privileged to be part of the development of the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, and initiative of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and MIT to completely reinvent teacher preparation and education schools in general.

Last week, the good folks over at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced their significant support for the WW Academy and its efforts. Benjamin Herold over at Education Week referenced it as CZI investing in “personalized learning for the whole educator.” Caitlin Reilly noted that “teaching K-12 is brutally hard” and this was one of the ways CZI was “offering support.”

No matter how one cuts it, I’m incredibly honored to be a very small piece of the initiative and to have the support of innovators like those at CZI. Chan Zuckerberg joins with notables such as the Bezos Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Amgen Foundation, Simons Foundation, and Nellie Mae Education Foundation in believing in the WW Academy’s mission of transforming the preparation of the nation’s teachers and school leaders.

 

I say it far too often, but change is hard. Changing systems is even harder. These organizations, and the many other partners who have joined with the WW Foundation and MIT in this effort, see that as an opportunity, not an obstacle.

The future of teacher education is now!