November 30th, 2011

WATCH: Today's Quiz: The American Teacher

Teachers are widely recognized as the backbone of education, but how much do you really know about the people who are in the classroom with our children everyday?

For example, what percentage are women?

How much money do they make?

How are they trained and evaluated?

What percentage leave the profession in their first 5 years?

Sharpen your No. 2 pencils and get ready to find out how much you know about one of the largest professions in the U.S.

Featured experts in this piece include Barnett Berry, the President of the Center for Teaching Quality and David Steiner, the Dean of the School of Education at Hunter College in New York.

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I’m amazed at the low percentage of teachers that are minorities and how little that has changed over the past few decades. What can this be attributed to and what solutions are out there?

Thanks for making some very important, little known facts available (hopefully) to a broader audience.

It was a privilege to work with John on this piece.

Megan, we know how to solve the shortage of minority teachers (and in the 1990s we made headway on this issue under the leadership of Linda Darling-Hammond and the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future as well as David Haselkorn who led the now defunct non-profit Recruiting New Teachers).

Unfortunately, today we are ignoring what was beginning to work in the past.

The approach to enticing minority candidates is 3-fold: (1) recruit from the ranks of middle and high school kids and create a scholarship-fueled college pipeline so they are well prepared and debt-free when they finish their teacher education degree, (2) find top notch candidates from the pool of teaching assistants and others working in community-based organizations dedicated to serving kids – and support them in honing their pedagogical skills and earning a debt-free teacher degree and license, and (3) pay competitive salaries and offer retention bonuses comparable to what minority candidates find in the private sector. We have seen successful programs built on strategies #1 and #2 work well in the 1990s – but then to be abandoned in the 2000s and unfortunately ignored by the current administration and today’s major philanthropies. (The DeWitt Wallace Foundation, 15 years ago, made investments in a number of VERY successful minority pathways into teaching efforts – and they have all but disappeared.

This is a yet another sad teaching policy story for our nation.

Given the importance and complexities of facilitating “real” learning, beyond what the standardized test can measure, teacher education is a farce. However, even if teachers are well prepared to facilitate learning, the conventional system will prevent these teacher/facilitators from actualizing their talents and skills. Systemic change is required that is based on what we know and can verify about human development and learning. Far superior methods of assessment and evaluation are available that would expose the inadequacies of the present standardized tests. Check out the web:

I too appreciate that this video made some very important, little known facts available to a broader audience.

It struck me to read about the multiple pathways individuals can chose to become a teacher. In the report, Urban Teacher Residency Models and Institutes of Higher Education Implications for Teacher Preparation researchers indicate that in regards to managing classrooms, helping struggling students, individualizing instruction, traditional recruits rated their preparation higher than the alternative route teachers. Multiple pathways may seem supportive for career seekers, however researchers have shown “high turnover among new recruits harms school improvement efforts.” The data presented in this report indicates that all of our pathways are not preparing teachers adequately. Candidates must understand how to evaluate, assess, and plan for student learning, and alter their instruction to meet the needs of all their learners on a daily basis. They also must educate the whole child, taking into account social/emotional behaviors and learning abilities and disabilities.

In America we offer roughly 1,400 traditional programs and 600 nontraditional pathways for becoming a teacher. Here in Colorado, I recently learned that there are 43 programs to become a teacher. How do we ensure that each of these programs create teachers that are effective instructors? In a recent meeting a local leader stated. “It isn’t a profession if it’s a wide-open gate.” Right now, the teaching profession seems to have a wide range of pathways of varying difficulty. But I have to wonder – are there “easier” pathways for folks to become doctors?
I wouldn’t want to be under that knife. Individuals can open schools with no formal training and they can enter the profession without working with actual students. No wonder many are deciding it just isn’t worth it when they face challenges; they are not prepared. With so many pathways into education, it leads me to believe that these pathways correlate with the five year drop-out rate for new teachers. As Barnett Berry states in this video, “a program predicts if teachers will stay in the profession long enough to get good at it.” If our pathways are not preparing our teachers then we need to reevaluate the ways we offer teachers to enter our profession – or we will not stem the problem of teacher attrition or get to the root cause of our low student achievement rates.

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