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NEA News

What is Quality Teaching and How is It Supported?

An NEA policy forum explores what it takes to create a force of “profession-ready” teachers.
Published: 11/08/2021

Key Takeaways

  1. The role of teachers has expanded significantly.
  2. Changes in teacher preparation and ongoing professional development are critical in creating "profession ready" educators.
  3. New funding from the American Rescue Plan must be targeted to preparing and recruiting more teachers, especially teachers of color.

The job of a teacher has expanded to huge proportions, with the pandemic stretching educator responsibilities almost to the breaking point. But the pandemic also has provided funding opportunities to help create and support a teaching workforce that can manage the newest challenges.

Using research as a guide, how can schools make the best use of new federal funds to support learning? That was the topic in the first of a series of policy forums held by NEA’s Teacher Quality department, where presenters explored what it means to be a “profession-ready teacher” and what policies are needed to get there.

The forum featured Maria Hyler, director of the Learning Policy Institute and Educator Preparation Laboratory and Tara Kini, director of State Policy at the Learning Policy Institute. Hyler provided the research landscape and Kini shared policy implications.

One of the reasons the job of teacher has changed in recent years is that researchers have learned more about the science of learning, Hyler said, and their findings have led to new ways of teaching.

What Science Tells Us About Teaching

“What we know from science,” said Hyler, “is that relationships are the essential ingredient that catalyzes healthy development and learning.”  

Learning is not only academic. Research consistently shows it is also social and emotional.

“Teachers can’t just teach math and not teach the child,” Hyler said. “They are tightly connected to each other.”

Whole-child teaching means tailoring approaches to meet kids as individuals. For example, research shows that students’ perceptions of their own abilities influence how well they learn. With that in mind, how can educators help build their confidence and aptitude?

Children learn best when they connect what they know to what they are learning within their own cultural contexts, which is why becoming culturally competent is important.

Science also shows that the struggles students face outside of school affects their ability to learn.

“Effective schools must be trauma-informed and healing-focused,” Hyler said.

Creating these positive learning environments must start with teacher preparation programs and continue with relevant professional development after teachers enter the classroom.

Hyler also pointed to research presented by Linda Darling-Hammond and Jeannie Oaks in their book Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning.

It describes how the best teacher preparation programs enable candidates to teach for deeper learning in developmentally grounded and personalized ways, contextualize and apply learning to real-world problems, and do so in productive learning communities that address issues of equity and social justice.

What’s Good for the Student is Good for the Teacher

A key finding is that the best strategies for teacher education are the same as student education.

“Effective programs teach and support their candidates in the same ways they want the candidates to teach and support children,” said Hyler. “Bottom line is that everything that students need for learning, educators need, too. Not only do they benefit from them, they learn to model them.”

Research shows that students’ perceptions of their own abilities influence how well they learn. With that in mind, how can educators help build their confidence and aptitude? 

That means no more “sit and get” or “drive by” professional development either.

“The best PD is active, collaborative, not isolated or one-off,” said Hyler. “There must be collaboration between educators and mentors, coaches, peers, and the entire school community.”

Policies to Broaden Access to Quality Teacher Preparation

Removing barriers to the best teacher education programs will broaden access, and the top barrier is often affordability.

“We can’t ask candidates to keep taking on huge [college] debts for a profession that still doesn’t pay well, especially candidates of color, many of whom feel the impacts of debt more significantly,” said Kini. “We need to support policies like service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs.”

Some states are working to entirely cover the cost of teacher preparation, like North Carolina’s Teaching Fellows program and Oregon’s Teachers Scholars program.

Retaining Quality Teachers with Mentoring and Residencies

Beyond broadening access, Kini said we also need policies that support high retention. For example, teacher residencies and grow-your-own programs offer intensive, high quality clinical preparation.

Pennsylvania is using Title II ESSA funds for teacher residencies, while California dedicated $350 million for teacher residencies. Because teachers from a particular community are more likely to stay in the community, Tennessee used CARES money to fund more grow-your-own programs. The federal government has committed $100 million for teacher residency programs and another $100 million for grow-your-own campaigns.

Mentoring is also critical to retention, which is why Illinois recently partnered with local affiliates to support mentoring for new teachers, Kini said. New Mexico also has made recent mentoring investments, and Iowa has longstanding investments in teacher mentoring programs.

Staffing shortages plaguing so many states can be addressed with policies educators have long advocated for – higher salaries, better benefits, and compensation for taking on leadership roles.

“I also want to call out how compensation for substitutes is impacting the huge staffing shortages,” Kini said. “We need to raise their compensation and keep subs in the pool because current teachers who are constantly called on to cover colleagues’ classes will eventually burn out.”

Much of the policy work can be accomplished with American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, Kini said, and encouraged participants to look at the Department of Education’s guidance issued last May.

“There’s lots of flexibility in those funds,” she said. “The guidance explains how they can be used to support the educator workforce.”

NEA advocates for use of ARP funds for educator preparation programs and other investments that recruit and retain a quality workforces for public schools and offers programs to assist teachers along their professional journey. Find out more.

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.