Leading the Profession
Are you ready to transform the teaching profession?
By Will Potter
As teachers-to-be, you’re doubtless aware that education reform remains a hot topic of discussion among politicians, pundits, and so-called “experts” on the topic who have not taught or spent any time in the classroom. They, rather than the real experts—teachers themselves—are driving the conversation about teacher policy.
Historically, educators have lacked the authority to govern their own profession, and the influence they have had has waned over the past 20 years. (In a recent MetLife survey, 69 percent of teachers felt their voices were not being heard in discussions of public education.)
So that’s the down side.
But would it mean to change course? What if educators were leading the way, instead of being on the receiving end of bad policies? What would reform look like if it were led not by pundits and politicians, but by you and teachers like you?
For years, the National Education Association (NEA) has been providing answers to those questions. NEA has been learning what works, and what doesn’t, from local and state affiliates and from top-performing school systems in other countries. In 2010, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel called for an independent Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT) to analyze the data and develop guidelines for the future of the teaching profession and the role of teachers in governing it.
Based on these efforts, in December Van Roekel announced a bold, new action agenda to transform the teaching profession and accelerate student learning. Below are some of the key parts of “Leading the Profession: NEA’s Three-Point Plan for Reform”:
1. Raising the bar for entry.
To help new teachers meet the challenges they will face in the classroom, the plan calls for rigorous preparation of teacher candidates. It recommends that every prospective teacher complete a one-year residency under the supervision of a master teacher before earning a full license, and also recommends that prospective teachers pass a classroom-based performance assessment after completion of a residency period.
The University of Maryland’s Master’s Certification program is a model of this type. Teacher candidates complete course work while working alongside seasoned professionals. At the end of the 16-month program, they earn a master’s degree and are recommended for Maryland certification.
2. Teachers ensuring great teaching
Making sure new teachers have the right preparation to start teaching is only the beginning. The profession must continue to support teachers throughout their careers, providing them with career options and helping them to develop their craft.
Just as junior and senior members of any profession have different sets of responsibilities, more advanced teachers should take on more difficult-to-serve students and mentoring duties.
By meeting novice teachers at their current level of experience, these professional and master teachers can help improve their skills and encourage their advancement.
NEA will work with willing state and local affiliates to establish at least 100 new Peer Assistance and Peer Assistance and Review programs over the next three years. These programs include structured mentorship, observation, and rigorous standards-based evaluations designed to develop great teachers.
“I see this as the essence of a true profession: putting teachers in charge of the quality of their work,” Van Roekel said. “Taking responsibility for the quality of teaching is essential not only to teachers but to the students they teach.”
3. Providing union leadership to transform the profession
From the Commission’s report and comments made in response to it, one message dominated: Educators need a loud, clear voice in decision-making if they are to transform the nation’s schools, and that collective voice is the union.
NEA members are already leading the way every day—members like Hallie Gleason, a fourth-year social science teacher in Portland, Oregon, who convinced seven of her colleagues to sign up for the National Board Certification program.
“We started thinking about what’s going to turn this school around and what will it take to lift up a whole community,” said Gleason. “It’s high-quality teaching, high-level strategies.”
NEA will deploy its own national network to train 1,000 accomplished teachers for leadership roles. NEA will also train educators from all 50 states in educational leadership based on the innovative curriculum being developed by the NEA Foundation’s Institute on Innovation in Teaching and Learning.
The net effect of this plan will be to increase the quality of teacher candidates, ensure that teachers remain at the top of their game throughout their careers, and improve student learning by helping educators become leaders in their schools.
For Van Roekel, the agenda is clear. “I am committing NEA’s strength and resources to making all these changes,” he said. “Five years from now, we want people to look at NEA as a major catalyst for bringing about the kind of education all Americans want, all teachers can deliver, and all children deserve.”