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.