Monday, September 10, 2007

No Teacher Left Behind

While Congress debates what to do with the disastrous "No Child Left Behind" policies, The Washington Post reports on an organization that is going a different, much more sensible route: teacher development.

I understand the imperative behind teacher training and certification efforts, but those processes have always seemed just a little backwards to me in terms of their priorities. Of course the reason is that they were frustrating to me personally, but still.

Willow had been teaching at an excellent local high school: a part magnet/part district school in a diverse county(and that's not just code for "mostly African American." It was really really diverse). She had taught students who couldn't read by the 9th grade and students who went on to Rhodes scholarships in the same semester. She loved the job, though with only an MA in English and three years of experience teaching at the college level, she had to go through an alternative certification process which basically taught her the jargon and what she had to write on the board every day to avoid getting into trouble with curriculum hawks. Never mind that in her first year of teaching, her AP students had the highest aggregate scores of anyone in the county.

Anyway, when we had just found out about the impending arrival of the twins, there was a scramble for me to finish, though I had not yet secured what started as my first academic job. So I was recruited by her department chair to join the faculty there, and for a month or so, this seemed like my best option. And not to toot my own horn, I was qualified: 5 years of experience teaching comp and lit at the undergraduate level, three teaching awards in the last two years, administrative, training, and mentor experience in the comp program, experience in workshops collaborating with secondary educators. My praxis test scores were all in the 90th percentiles (my math score, oddly, was perfect; my writing score a few points below).

But because I had not taken the praxis tests in time, I would not be eligible for the alternative certification program (which itself would've been a joke), and therefore would've spent my first year as a "provisional teacher" making half of what I'd make as a certified teacher. And the only reason I'd've been able to teach at all was that the county regularly had a thousand-teacher shortage every year.

The point is, that with all of the emphasis on testing packages, and accountability, the groups that are not being held accountable are the institutions that govern the teachers: federal and state education regulators. Instead of whipping schools into shape, support them into shape, and that support begins by supporting teachers and giving teachers, administrators and schools the flexibility and control to invigorate their classrooms: smaller class sizes, flexible scheduling options, professional development that isn't dry as dust, teacher appreciation that isn't demeaning. Regulating them into lock-step isn't support. It's only robbing them of creativity: one of the most rewarding elements of teaching.

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