Teacher Quality

Playing to Our Strengths: Helping Teachers Hone Their Practice

Guest post by Jethro Jones

I had someone ask me the other day, “What does effective teaching look like to you? What do you look for when you walk into a classroom?” I thought this was a really interesting question that I have not had to answer in awhile, but I think it is important to share how my thoughts about this have changed over time. (more…)

The Brownsburg Way, Part Two: Supporting Teachers to Succeed

Guest post by Amber Schroering and Jim Snapp

In our post last week, we introduced you to The Brownsburg Way, the approach our district—the Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) in Central Indiana—uses to deliver consistent and high academic results year after year. We discussed how our narrow teaching and learning focus contributes to our achievement. Of course, curriculum and instructional programing aren’t the only factors. Without our stellar educators, none of our success would be possible. So how do we support our teachers so that they do their very best? (more…)

Advocacy Update

Inside the Beltway

What’s going on in Washington?

Last week, Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) introduced a crucial loan forgiveness bill that would help combat principal turnover. The Recruiting and Retaining Effective School Leaders Act (H.R. 3925) is enthusiastically supported by NASSP, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the American Federation of School Administrators. The bill would provide loan forgiveness over a seven-year period to principals who work in schools where at least 30 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. Last Thursday, November 5, the NASSP Board of Directors took to Capitol Hill to advocate for this bill and for the needs of school principals. Education Week covered the bill and NASSP’s support. (more…)

Attendance is a Two Sided Affair

By Stuart A. Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

This is the second of three posts on student attendance and classroom disruptions from the perspective of the classroom teacher. Part three will address the issue of field trips and attendance.

Sometimes teacher training must take a backseat.

In an excellent three-part series Mel Riddile created a substantial argument for the direct correlation between good attendance and academic success. No teacher would disagree with this premise. 

In one blog Dr. Riddile referenced the various responsibilities required of the states, courts, districts and schools in ensuring that students attend on a regular basis. Another outlined the strategies he employed as a principal which resulted in significant improvements at the school.

An offer that can be refused

Educating requires life-long learning. When speaking to new teachers I would always share one comment. “Every year whether it was my second, twenty-second, thirty-second or fortieth, I was making adjustments to my teaching. It is never a finished product and anyone who thinks they know it all is wrong.” I began my career with ditto machines, trig charts, pointing sticks and a typewriter. Along the way I acquired Xerox machines that would print (more…)

Not the Best Administrative Fix

By Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

Creating arbitrary rules is rarely the best solution in education.

Two days into the new school year a former colleague told me of a sad revelation. “Apparently the new thing this year from the administrative staff is a directive that every teacher is to be assigned three preparations.”  She explained that the second-year principal had instructed all department chairs that whenever possible teaching schedules should contain three different subjects. The goal of this exercise was to ensure that the distribution of courses within the faculty would be more equitable.

This is not a totally new approach for achieving this somewhat mysterious objective in the school. Four years earlier the previous principal announced a doctrine to address the same issue. This one stated that every educator should teach “at least one high-level and one low-level course”.

The rationale given in both cases was similar. These requirements were designed to stop inappropriately “rewarding” teachers with more seniority by assigning them the “easy” classes while giving less experienced faculty members the most challenging courses which usually contain the largest number of at-risk students. The most common explanation given is that such “balance” will improve staff morale and instruction especially for the most basic courses.

Unfortunately, such plans are far more likely to increase the problems they are supposed to diminish.

A false sense of equality

When actually enforced such mandates often result in diminished classroom success for both students and teachers.  From the teacher’s perspective, the problems are obvious. While there are a few individuals who prefer multiple preps as an antidote to boredom, they are in the minority. The reality is readily apparent. Creating lesson plans, assessment tools and grading for three different classes is far more time consuming than for two or one. Rare is the teacher who complains of having copious spare time to spend (more…)

What is Too Much Help?

By Stuart Singer, author of The Algebra Miracle

The contradictory nature of comments drew my attention.

“This is the perfect school – really. They do great things – very innovative, research-based practices. They support us a huge amount. Too much, really. Part of the problem is how much support I am given. I am constantly being observed and offered little suggestions. I have to sit down and take apart my thoughts of each class with my mentor, my department head, and fellow teachers. I don’t have the time for that. I just got assigned yet another mentor who wants me to start writing self-reflections. My reviews have been outstanding, but yet, as all new teachers (defined as under 3 years’ experience) have, I have many mentors and an abundance of help. It’s killing me.”

The speaker, a first-year social studies teacher, was reflecting on his first week of school.

Drowning in a sea of good intentions

There is little question that inexperienced teachers need as much support as possible. As stated in previous posts there are few professions that treat their newest practitioners in the same manner as education. No law firm, medical practice or public accountant would assign their least knowledgeable employees the same workload as the savviest. And yet on a regular basis first-year teachers are given the same number of sections, students and preparations as their veteran colleagues. Sadly, in many cases they are not given their own classroom, while being assigned some of the most challenging students and classes in the building.

But while solutions to these problems do exist—give these educators fewer classes and more time to observe and plan—the realities of fiscal restraints work against their implementation. Consequently, (more…)