Saturday, February 15, 2014

Experience is the Best Teacher

When No Child Left Behind was conceived, one of its tenets was to have a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. According to the federal government - The federal definition of a highly qualified teacher is one who meets all of the following criteria: 1) Fully certified and/or licensed by the state; 2) Holds at least a bachelor degree from a four-year institution; and 3) Demonstrates competence in each core academic subject area in which the teacher teaches. That competence is demonstrated by Praxis test scores as well as observations by administrators.

In the state of Pennsylvania, it takes 3-6 years to become permanently (fully) certified to teach. This entails jumping through several hoops in order to become qualified.  The first thing necessary after graduation from a teaching program is passing all subtests of the PRAXIS that are required for your certificate. PRAXIS is a nationally recognized teachers’ version of the Board exams given to lawyers, nurses, and doctors. They assess your knowledge of child development, teaching strategies, and content knowledge in your chosen field of education. Depending on your desired certification, you may need to take and pass 4-6 of these exams before getting your temporary teaching certificate. In addition to passing the Praxis, you must continue to take a certain number of courses by your sixth year of teaching.  Most teachers take courses in education or in their field of expertise, with the idea they can use them in their current teaching situation. Some teachers go on to get their Master’s in Education. None of this is paid for by the school district here, although you can currently get a raise for adding an advanced degree or two, at least until the school district takes that away.

All of us were happy when they put a Highly-Qualified requirement for the teaching positions because the districts and principals often placed newly qualified teachers in positions for which they were not certified. Teachers who had a social science degree may have been called upon to teach English or Algebra if a suitable person could not be found for this position. My own sister-in-law had an English teacher assigned to a beginning Algebra class in high school. Needless to say, she didn’t learn much that year. In my own experience, our school assigned a classroom teacher to a Special Ed position for a year. Even though that particular teacher was studying to get her degree in Special Ed, she was not qualified that first year. Indeed, we sometimes had a difficult time filling positions because the school was in a high-poverty area. Teachers with experience were valued highly here, since they would not be undaunted by the challenges found in the school.

But the “highly qualified” tag actually now means nothing because the US Congress has changed the rules. The blogger, Geaux Teacher, explains in a recent blog entry.

In language that does not give a hint about its real meaning, the deal extends by two years legislation that allows the phrase “highly qualified teachers” to include students still in teacher training programs — and Teach For America’s (TFA) recruits who get five weeks of summer training shortly after they have graduated from college, and are then placed in some of America’s neediest schools.

Teach For America’s 5 weeks of training doesn’t even come close to the months of observation and months of practice teaching under close supervision of a certified teacher that the college students in teacher prep classes put in. Those 5 weeks don’t come close to the 4-6 semester’s worth of child development and educational methods courses taken by teacher prep students, nor the additional 36 credits required to become permanently certified. Not to mention that it takes three years before they will even THINK about giving you permanent certification.

Why? Because it takes that long to get good at what you do. It takes that long to have a grasp of the developmental and emotional states of the age group you are teaching. It takes that long to know your content for that grade, And it takes that long to find your teacher legs, the ones that will help you stand up to challenging students, or support emotionally needy ones, the ones that will hold you up on days that never seem to end.

TFA teachers only promise 2 years of service. Most are gone after that second year, on to Graduate School or a job where educational experience will give them a leg up in their career. Don’t get me wrong, there are TFA teachers who eventually stay and learn to become good teachers, but the point is, they are being labeled as ‘highly qualified” from the get-go, when they are clearly not. To throw someone with 5 weeks experience into an inner-city classroom and expect them to be highly qualified is a joke.

A teacher’s first year is usually a washout as they learn how to teach by themselves, paying attention to all the things no one explains in teacher prep classes, like collecting data, analyzing, diagnosing and prescribing while planning 5-7 step lessons in each subject and keeping the lid on 30 wriggling bodies and wandering minds. And don’t forget answering phone calls from the office and from parents, making sure you are following the IEPs and 504 plans for each noted child, all the while teaching towards the visual, auditory and kinesthetic needs of each child. While you are assessing whether they understood the lesson and need re-teaching. Oh, and keeping track of the schedules of the Special Ed kids and the gifted kids who may be removed from the class each day for specialized instruction, but making sure they get the instruction they miss when they are out of the classroom, all the while exposing them to grade level tasks, concepts and vocabulary that they are expected to know for the standardized test. You think that a non-educator or one trained for 5 weeks could come in and handle that? Think again. All TFA does is take away jobs from real highly qualified teachers

Not to mention all the educational policies foisted upon us by people who have never been a teacher or have only been a teacher for 3-4 years. Remember, you really don’t get good at what you do until the third year. From the top of the chain on down we are forced to follow the policies of these unprepared, clueless administrators and legislators making educational policy that doesn’t make sense.

Let’s start at the top.

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education for the United States – zero years as a teacher, majored in Sociology, no teacher training

Michelle Rhee, former Superintendent of Schools in Washington DC – only 3 years teaching in a charter school, degrees in Government and Public Policy, TFA training of only 5 weeks

David Coleman, developer of Common Core Standards - zero years teaching experience,  English and Philosophy degrees, worked for McGraw Hill, was on the Board of Students First, Michelle Rhee’s organization

Because he’s been so high-profile these days, I will include John King, NY State Education Commissioner - 3 years teaching in a charter, law degree and degree in Educational Leadership, no teacher training at all.

William Hite, Philadelphia’s Superintendent, looks like a long-timer with – 4 years teaching experience, BS Secondary Education Marketing Education, regular teacher training.

So that’s 5 high-profile educational big whigs, making policies that affect tens of millions of children, and among them they have 10 years teaching experience and only ONE of them has had more than 5 weeks training. Is it any wonder why the United States is floundering where education is concerned? The three most influential figures, Arne Duncan,  Michelle Rhee and David Coleman had a total of 5 weeks training and 3 years teaching – total!  Yet they are in charge of writing policy for all those who are in the trenches, have the education and training, and could tell them a thing or two about teaching. Please, if you do nothing else this weekend, investigate your state education policy makers and see how many years experience they have. And with the primaries coming up, make sure you look at the education experience and records of your already elected politicians and the wannabees.

Vote for people who know what they are talking about. Get rid of the ones who have no clue. Write letters of no confidence for those in power who have no business being there.

And opt out of the Common Core testing. It was NOT written by teachers and is only going to make billions for Pearson, the educational testing company. It will not be of any value for your children. Get involved with your local school board. Get rid of the Common Core and get them replaced with standards that are written by people who know and understand your children – teachers.

Take back education from the corporations.

No Teacher Left Behind

What do teachers want from school reformers?

Almost in the TFA's clutches, Gary Rubenstein opens your eyes.

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