Ask Arne: Talking Teacher Prep

Teacher prep needs to be better in this country. An overwhelming share of teachers don’t feel prepared to be an effective teacher on day one— and, as a member of the New York City Teaching Fellows in 2003, I was one of them.

However, a great teacher prep program also saved my career. Five years after my painful trial-by-fire initiation into teaching, I earned a degree in teaching through a traditional M.A. program at Teachers College, Columbia University, and that experience— anchored in rich, lengthy student-teaching experiences under the tutelage of great mentors— set me up for success in the classroom.

In the video interview embedded below, I asked Sec. Duncan about his views on teacher prep—a topic that has suddenly become a lot hotter with the recent release of an incendiary report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit organization.

Is teacher prep a major headline issue for Secretary Duncan? (Spoiler alert: Yes.) What does he see as exemplars in the traditional and alternative models? How can we attract, support, and retain people who will become excellent teachers? Check it out.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

More information on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program can be found here: http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/charts/public-service

Your comments and questions for future segments of #AskArne are most welcome. Feel free to add them in the comments section here, on Facebook, or on Twitter at #AskArne.

Dan Brown is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education for the 2012-13 school year. He is a National Board Certified Teacher at The SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C.

Teachers Want to Lead the Transformation of their Profession

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.  Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility:  To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

– President Barack Obama, January 24, 2012, “State of the Union”

Tuesday night President Barack Obama said what many teachers in America have been yearning to hear from their president: teachers matter, we change lives, and we do this hard work to make a difference in the lives of students.

He also acknowledged what every good teacher knows: that an accountability system that puts too much emphasis on test scores undermines a well-rounded education. But implicit in his speech was a challenge to America and to teachers to rebuild and strengthen the profession – a challenge that teachers are more than eager to accept.

As 2011 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellows, we have heard from many teachers that the field has lost its luster. In our role as Teaching Ambassadors, we have talked with teachers in many groups, and we have heard real despondency over the constraints of NCLB that have caused schools to focus on testing and teacher evaluation in ways that are oppressive and rob our profession of much of the joy of teaching and learning.

We’ve listened to countless stories about a law that has raised standards without providing support for schools to meet them. And we have cringed when some of our most effective colleagues acknowledged that they can no longer afford to stay in a difficult profession that asks so much of them but barely affords a middleclass lifestyle. “We didn’t get into teaching to be millionaires,” they say, “but we have to be able to feed our families.”

What we like about the President’s speech is not that he acknowledges our grievances though, admittedly, it feels good to be heard. What appeals to us is that the President understands that as a country we must do much more than simply tweak a structure that is not working. Educators want to lead the transformation and rebuilding of teaching so that our work improves students’ lives and restores pride in our profession.

Teachers welcome this transformation. Neither students nor teachers are served by a structure that treats some teachers like interchangeable cogs in a machine. We long to lead our own profession because when we drive our craft, we will see huge shifts in the responsibility, leadership, pay and respect. As NEA President Dennis Van Roekel describes in the NEA’s December 8, 2011 Action Agenda to Strengthen Teaching, “The true essence” of our work “is putting teachers in charge of the quality of their profession.”

What would teachers do if they ran the schools? We would raise the bar for membership in our profession, recruiting the best candidates and insisting that teacher preparation programs become more rigorous and relevant. About 62 percent of all new teachers—almost two-thirds—report they felt unprepared for the realities of their classroom. As Secretary Duncan has said, “Imagine what our country would do if 62 percent of our doctors felt unprepared to practice medicine—you would have a revolution in our medical schools.”

A transformed profession would give teachers much more responsibility and flexibility to make decisions that meet their students’ educational needs–allowing access to and training with technology, shifting class sizes, and restructuring the school day so that they have time to collaborate with colleagues and engage in professional learning and problem-solving.

We would offer teachers a professional salary and career pathways that acknowledge their skill and commitment in one of the most complex, demanding, and important jobs in the world. We would insist on great school leaders, with principals who have high expectations, develop all teachers as lifelong learners, and create positive school cultures where students and teachers succeed.

As the President acknowledged, teachers are creative and passionate. But like workers in many other professions, we expect to be held accountable for results. We yearn to help create fair and thorough teacher evaluation systems and have access to data to make informed decisions about what is working and what isn’t, to direct our professional learning, and to help decide who stays in our profession. President Obama was right when he said, “That is a bargain worth making.”

Now more than ever, teachers long to lead their profession so that we finally resolve the important educational challenges in this country. A quarter of our children fail to finish high school on time and barely four in ten earn any type of post-secondary degree. For children of color, outcomes are even worse. When we see the statistics–that 7,000 students drop out of school every day–we feel pain for those teens and shame and guilt that we were not able to prevent this tragedy.

On top of that, school districts are getting ready to slam into an awful reality, that before the end of the decade, more than a million Baby Boomer teachers—fully a third of America’s teachers–will retire or leave the teaching profession. To recruit and retain the best teachers, we need to offer rewarding jobs and competitive salaries.

We were especially pleased to read in the Blueprint for an America Built to Last, released yesterday with the speech transcript, that the President plans to ask Congress for funding that will “challenge states and districts to work with their teachers and unions to reform the entire teaching profession – from training and licensing to compensation, career ladders and tenure.”

Educators want to take on this work. As highly skilled specialists, we are not afraid of owning our profession. We are not afraid of being held accountable for results when we are given the responsibility and flexibility to craft our profession. We are confident that the President understands what it will take to transform teaching to meet the challenges of the 21st Century, and we are eager to join with our colleagues across the country in moving the profession forward.

2011 U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellows Geneviève DeBose, Claire Jellinek, Greg Mullenholz, Shakera Walker, and Maryann Woods-Murphy.

Duncan Introduces Plan to Reform and Improve Teacher Prep

“America’s teachers and America’s children deserve world-class preparation programs that prepare teachers for today’s classrooms and students for today’s information age,” said Secretary Duncan earlier today as he announced ED’s proposed reforms to improve teacher preparation programs and better prepare educators for classroom success.

The Department’s plan has three core elements:

    1. ED is proposing to reduce the reporting burden on schools of education and states. The Department wants states to identify the best teacher preparation programs and encourage others to improve by linking student test scores back to teachers and their schools of education.
    2. The Department has proposed a $185 million Presidential Teaching Fellows program to support rigorous state-level policies and provide scholarships for future leaders to attend top programs.
    3. ED’s plan will provide more support for institutions that prepare high-quality teachers from diverse backgrounds.

For additional information, read Our Future, Our Teachers: the Obama Administration’s Plan for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement.

Discussing Special Education Teacher Prep at Eastern Michigan

Last Friday, I had a great opportunity to participate in a roundtable at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) on special education teacher preparation, recruitment and retention. With six other distinguished panelists that included a state and district representative, an EMU faculty member, a current EMU teacher candidate, a parent and a local teacher representative, we all agreed that integrating some of the preparation of general and special educators was of paramount importance.

For two hours, we shared data on current recruitment and retention rates and best practices for long-term retention.  One of these practices included the need for a strong induction and mentoring program. Michigan currently has a mandatory three-year mentoring program, 15 additional days of professional development, and regional seminars that allow them to hear from and connect to master teachers as they begin their teaching careers. What a great exemplar!

We also discussed the steps EMU is taking to make teacher preparation more successful and how important it is to align university training with what teachers are expected to do in their classrooms. Traditionally, general education and special education teachers have been trained separately, yet as we continue to move towards more inclusive settings, EMU will collaborate to ensure that programs are working together and general and special education are no longer “housed” in separate silos.

During and following the roundtable, I had a chance to chat with some of the over 250 attendees. Some of the topics of interest to audience members included the economic implications of inclusive practices and the need for financial incentives for teachers, especially as we work to increase the number of youth who choose to become special educators.  As I mingled through the crowd, I was excited to meet so many teacher candidates who participated in this event. I want to extend a special thanks to those who participated and remind all of you that investing in education is investing in our future!

Alexa Posny is Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.