Which school do you want to support?
Most of the learning that occurs in school happens through interaction between students and their teachers. The most direct way to improve learning is to improve teaching.
California has developed the California Standards for the Teaching Profession to provide a common definition of what quality teaching looks like. They cover six areas of teaching quality:
These standards are intended to guide teachers in their work and to be used by education leaders to help teachers improve.
Often, those improvement efforts focus on professional development: that's education jargon for "training." It's a broad term that encompasses any kind of teacher training, but the term usually seems to be used when the training is not paid for by the teacher. At their best, professional development ("PD") programs prepare teachers to address the challenges of their work and the expectations set out in educational standards. Ask any teacher. They will have a lot to say about what makes for "Good PD." Or read this 90-page state-sponsored report: Greatness By Design [PDF]. Boston College professor Andy Hargreaves describes great teaching as a function of “Professional Capital,” which involves more than individual skill.
Not all training is good, of course. At worst, meaningless professional development programs distract from the real work of teaching children.
In most districts, teachers can invest in their own career advancement by earning formal credit or advanced degrees through evening or summer programs. About half of California’s teachers obtain a master’s degree, at least partly for economic reasons: incentives for coursework are built into the typical district’s salary schedule. By earning additional college credits, teachers qualify for additional pay. In many districts, teachers with a master’s degree receive an extra annual salary bump that some estimate at about $9,000.
Step and column
up it goes
the research shows
As budgets came under pressure in the great recession, this automatic pay differential became a point of focus for districts looking for ways to bring cost expansion under control. Do students learn more from teachers who invest their time and money to earn advanced degrees? Perhaps not: In a speech before the American Enterprise Institute former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said "Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have masters' degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers‐‐with the possible exception of teachers who earn masters in math and science." Harvard researchers found similar results in this study, which suggests that Masters Degrees probably make no difference. The same study indicated that National Board Certification probably does make a difference, especially for math and science teachers.
Of course, technology is changing everything for teachers looking to up their game in the classroom. The internet is bursting with teacher-generated lesson plans on sites like EdModo, HotChalk and TeachersPayTeachers. Edutopia.org tends to review them from time to time. For teachers working on their classroom skills, an inconspicuously perched smartphone camera is quietly proving a major tool for self-critique and peer review. Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, used inexpensive video equipment to collect useful clips of experienced teachers to help describe techniques for keeping students' attention and motivation.
This seems a reasonable moment to re-emphasize a recurring theme: public education is complicated, personal, human work, but it happens at enormous scale. It is not easy to move such a system forward. Silver bullets are shiny, but costly, and when inspected they generally show their tarnish.
If formal training generally falls short, how do most teachers learn their craft? The next lesson examines the subject of teacher collaboration.
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