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Teachers Need Good Teaching, Too

Anyone who’s been teaching for at least a year has probably been through the experience known as "staff development". While most school districts recognize the need for teachers to have regular training, few do a good job with it.

According to Education Week, that may be changing.

Now many national policymakers and experts believe that professional development, which teachers often have regarded as wasted time, is potentially an important tool for improving student learning.

Well, I’m no expert in this area but I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of this "inservice" training. In my current job I’m now on the delivery end of it. All of which probably gives me as much right to comment on the subject as anyone.

One of the biggest problems with professional development programs in most schools systems is there really isn’t a plan that links the training to the improvement of teaching. Traditionally, teachers must earn a certain number of credits to retain their jobs and earn more money. But it’s largely up to each individual teacher to decide what they they will study.

In many districts (including the one I work for), the scope of these continuing education requirements is usually very broad and very subjective. Someone could choose a class in jewelry making or one on using the internet to teach social studies and the two courses would carry the same value, regardless of whether the teacher needed the experience.

Combine this scattershot approach to professional development with the fact that most teachers in this country must also get most of that training on their own time, at their own expense and you have a pretty poor continuing education program.

If the researchers studying teacher training programs really want to improve things, there are two big things they could start with.

First, districts need to help teachers (and administrators for that matter) develop a personal development plan that is directly linked to student learning and the needs of the school. It doesn’t make any sense for everyone to do their own thing.

Equally important, however, professional development must be a regular, ongoing process that is embedded in the work year. Teachers should be paid for their time and effort in improving their skills. The traditional concept that teachers are independent contractors when it comes to their own training is as antiquated as closing school for summer vacation.

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5 Comments

  1. You know… when I’ve done staff development, I’ve tried to make sure that it was revelant to what the teachers were doing in their classroom… that it was a mix of theory and practice… and that it was intensive. We used to run a two week long tech infusion workshop where we brought teams of teachers to our workshop to look both at how tech could change their classroom *and* their school.

    The curriculum is a little out of date now, but I think the theory behind it holds up:
    http://www.beaconschool.org/NASTT

  2. I have argued that teachers need to be considered more like professions such as the law or medicine, meaning that there needs to be some focus on teh mehtodology of teaching. Since you have been on both the receiving and giving end of professional development, what concrete examples of proper teaching methodology would you suggest.

    Reducing teaching to core principals taught to all professional teachers would make the profession itself more respectable, but as a lawyer I don’t know if I have enough information to make that reduction. Please help.

  3. I think a certain amount of “do-your-own-thing” is necessary. If I, as an English teacher, want to take a class on Emily Dickenson to improve the depth of my subject-matter expertise in an American literature class I teach, that’s entirely legitimate. But it doesn’t mean that every other English teacher on the campus or in the district should have to take it.

    An art teacher could make the same argument for the jewelry making course, a social studies teacher for the internet course, and they SHOULD carry the same weight.

    I understand your point – either the social studies teacher or I would have an uphill battle trying to justify the jewlery course; at some point we’ve confused personal growth with professional growth, and allowed educators to substitute one for the other.

    Interestingly, my experience is that lawyers and doctors go to conferences and conventions and pick and choose from a variety of sessions those that appeal to them for curiousity’s sake or for perceived need, any of which count as continuing-ed credits (correct me if I’m wrong, Matt, that’s what I remember growing up with a lawyer father and a family-friend doctor).

    That’s not how most schools view professional growth.

    The best continuing-ed experience I ever had as a English teacher was in attending the NCTE convention and choosing the break-out sessions that I thought would help me the most. Unfortunately, I had to use sick time to do it, and got no credit whatsoever.

  4. It just so happens that I blogged today about teacher inservices, myself.
    Both I (a ten year teacher) and the blogger I link to (a first year teacher) echo the idea that inservices tend to be a waste of time. They could be so much more.
    http://thomasinstitute.blogspot.com/2005/08/teacher-inservices.html

  5. Linda F

    The major problem with professional development, as I see it,
    is that it is top-down-driven. The administration decides
    what that professional development’s focus should be, and
    every teacher in the district (or region) has to follow the
    same program.

    I have an idea – why not find out what PD the teachers would
    be, or are, willing to pay for – and structure that PD around
    that model? Or give them the money directly, rather than
    import the experts from afar.

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