In Part 1, I introduced the idea that it is time to consider a new professional model for education. In this Part 2, I offer some ideas of how we might begin this task.
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Highly skilled educators who have been in the field for many years are now publicly resigning with harsh words for the changes that have taken over education. But the hard truth is, we allowed ourselves to become inert professionals. It is easy to bristle at this suggestion, but the reality is, we didn’t push our administrators or our legislators to set up systems of more accurate evaluations, or create new and innovative incentives to increase our professional experience. We didn’t invite deeper scrutiny or ask for challenges to allow us to improve our expertise. As a profession, we stayed safe, content to collect years on the job, and allow that to be the only testament of success and security in our field. So the policy making moved on without us – and now it is trying to roll over us.
We wonder why the American public doesn’t respect us, or the work we do for their children. We wonder why teacher-bashing has become the new pastime, and when it will end. Some of us fall prey to cheating to grab hold of the false incentives offered by the false experts and false reformers. Some of us end up completely on the outside, laid off in purges that are the result of more restrictions on resources, or resigning because we can’t take what teaching has become. Some of us live in constant fear about whether we will be able to return next year to the safety of our classroom. And some of us are so exhausted from the pressure, the mandates, the negativity, and the indignities, we aren’t sure how we will make it to the end of this year.
But the truth is, as overworked as we may be, we have to be more than what we have been. We need to see ourselves in the context of a career field that should have just as rigorous requirements for advancement as every other respected career field. And there should be advancement opportunities and authentic methods of evaluation. We should have to show our skills and expertise and be able to strive for promotions and other incentives. Why not? We must begin to refashion American education based on what we know to be the best practices, because we are the experts. Our students will only benefit when we are part of a system that encourages, rather than threatens, high quality educators.
Here are just a few ideas about how we might begin to remodel our profession:
- Open Access & Peer Evaluation. The time of closed classroom doors and teachers operating in total privacy are gone. Just the advent of flipped classrooms alone has changed teaching into a public, technologically accessible practice. Some schools have already begun instituting a motivating program of open classrooms, and peer observations and peer reviews. A rigorous method of peer evaluation could be part of incentivizing the profession. Instituting a system for teachers to observe colleagues and provide anonymous evaluations (using a well-structured, research-based observation rubric) can give teachers the opportunity to receive commentary on best practices that is removed from their personal relationships with their colleagues. Such a system would allow each teacher to receive a number of anonymous evaluations to use each semester to inform their best practices. These evaluations can be part of a professional portfolio that feeds into formal evaluations as well. Yes, it takes extra time to spend 15 or 20 minutes in several other classrooms a semester, but the benefits of giving and receiving professional advice and learning from our colleagues can only improve our expertise.
- Professional Portfolios. We educators make extremely forceful, cogent, and well-researched arguments about the benefits of portfolio and project-based evaluations rather than high-stakes standardized tests for our students. Setting the example ourselves would be an important way to show the invalidity of using those same tests to evaluate teachers. Having a process (again, one with a research-based rubric) by which teachers can build yearly, electronic portfolios of their professional practices can add to the evidence that shows they deserve advancement and can serve as additional substance to observation evaluations. Portfolios can include unit plans with standards and content connections, along with pedagogical explanations; classroom management plans; student interactions and work; data collection on longitudinal student assessments; professional development or publishing; colleague collaboration; leadership experiences; use of technology and new pedagogical, content or management skills.
- Tiers of Advancement. While yearly pay increases are common in most career fields, there are other ways to provide incentive for advancement. If several different tiers were installed into an educator’s career path, there might be periodic ways to incentivize new skills, best practices and contribution to the field – perhaps three or four different tiers of mastery that become available every few years. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a monetary benefit attached (though those are always appreciated). There are all kinds of other benefits intensely valued by veteran teachers: flexible time, resources to pursue further certifications or degrees, sabbatical opportunities, leadership positions, or the opportunity to provide professional development to colleagues, are among many ideas for this kind of advancement.
- Advocacy Training. In the end, public education is still… public. Hopefully, in a democracy intent on maintaining its liberty, a robust education system will remain a priority (though it’s looking pretty bleak right now). We must become the most often heard advocates for our profession, not those of the private interests hoping to cash in on the dismantling of a free, universal education for all Americans. That means we should make it part of our professional training and activities to lobby, engage personally with lawmakers, and organize and participate in community activities that bring the relevancy of our industry into the reality of our neighbors. The voices of actual teachers are far more valuable than those of professional lobbyists or private groups with other agendas, and it should be part of our job description to know how to advocate for our profession, our students and ourselves.
We must not be caught like we have been in the last couple of decades: behind the times and tossed about by the winds of change. We must take charge of our own field. We must draw in our community and create allies out of our local citizens. We must be in constant communication with school and district administrators, and the conversation should go both ways, where educators have serious input into policy and decisions. We must actively and consistently advocate for ourselves and for our profession. Doing these things will lead naturally to the best, most advanced education and opportunities for our students.
Many teachers already have these skills and experiences, and can lead the way to a new model for our profession. We have to be more than simply present in our classrooms. Yes, it will take more energy. Yes, we will have to transform the way we operate. And yes, that means we will have to do more than just teach. But in the end, it should be us, the expert educators, who decide our destiny as a profession. It must be us who makes our career field essential to the progress and prosperity of our nation. We need to be the ones out in front of policy making. And the cold, hard truth is that we will have to work harder – and outside of our classrooms – in order to do that. But if there is anything possible amidst all the oscillations taking place in education, it is that we teachers can be the leaders of more positive change. We are the ones who know best what to do. It’s time we do it.
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