Teaching as Specialized Work – Part 2 in a Series

Everyone loves a teacher, and yet all too often teaching is undermined, labeled as a profession that requires only a dab of common sense and an ounce of patience. Many consider teaching a profession they can fall back on if they end up miserable after years of working in a more lucrative field. Not only do these perceptions of teaching fail to honor the work and devotion educators dedicate to their craft, but they undervalue the system of teacher education.  Let us not forget that just as law and medicine require practice and thorough training, teaching requires the same degree of application and specialization.

Last spring, I had the opportunity to take EDIS 5023, a Mentor Teacher Training Course offered through the Curry School. It was through this experience that I began to consider the implications of a larger, more complex issue regarding new teachers: How does viewing education as a profession that requires thorough training and practice affect teacher retention, and in turn, how can teacher training programs be improved to ensure that mentees are provided with sufficient practice and feedback?

At the heart of it, teaching necessitates an ability to understand perspectives outside of oneself and enter into differing “ways of being.” Knowing how to answer a math equation, for example, is not the same as being able to understand why a student solved the same equation incorrectly. Nor is teaching only about knowing content; it is about finding ways to make the content relevant, understandable, and accessible to a diverse group of learners.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, teaching goes against the virtue of being oneself. As teachers, we are forced to suspend aspects of ourselves to avoid acting in self-interest. As highly educated professionals who are expected to be perceptive, knowledgeable, adaptive and selfless, this job is clearly not one that just anyone can do.

It is no surprise, then, that many teachers switch careers within the first five years. But would retention rates improve if education was more honored, revered, understood in society? How then would teacher preparation change? How would education programs adopt opportunities to implement better training? Perhaps it is only when classroom teaching is viewed as specialized work that the resources to prepare teachers with relevant opportunities for practice will exist.

As we continue to provide novice teachers with the tools to be successful, let us not forget that they are valued, respected, and important. The future of teacher education begins with us.

In this blog series, we share contributions by outstanding classroom teachers who completed the Curry School’s Mentor Teacher Training Program, funded by a grant through the Virginia Department of Education. The Curry School partners with local school divisions to deliver a graduate course at no cost to their highly recommended teachers. The course focuses on ambitious, evidence-based coaching and mentoring practices that facilitate high-quality teaching practice. While enrolled in the course, these mentors refine their practices while developing the skills of future teachers’ in their classrooms. In this post, mentor Gwendolyn Page shares her perspectives about the course and about the ways in which reframing teacher preparation strengthens our profession and improves the ways in which we serve preK-12 students.

Guest Author

Gwendolyn Page

Gwendolyn Page

Teacher-Student Interactions Are the Best Measure of Early Education Quality

What is quality in early education classrooms, and how can we make sure that more children—especially those from low-income families—experience it? Our own and others’ research shows that classroom interactions between teachers and their students provide the strongest indicators of quality.

In the past two decades, the United States has made an unprecedented public investment in early education. As a result, more young children attend pre-kindergarten than ever before. Yet the achievement gap between low- and middle-income children has hardly budged. A big part of the problem is that preschool programs—not to mention early elementary classrooms—vary widely in quality. Overall, they aren’t intensive enough in the quality they provide. The strongest preschool programs do significantly reduce achievement gaps. However, there are too few examples of such superior programs and far too many examples of programs with modest effects that wane as children grow older.

To fulfill pre-kindergarten’s promise of narrowing persistent achievement gaps, we need to strengthen teachers’ skills to interact with their students more effectively. We also need to ensure that students encounter such interactions throughout their journey from pre-kindergarten through the early elementary years. Read more…

Guest Author

Leading the Change

“We don’t just want educators to be part of the necessary change-we need them to lead it.” –John King, Secretary of Education

In early November, we did just this. The Teach to Lead Summit in Washington, D.C. allowed teams from across the country to gather for two days of planning, developing, and collaborating with team members on their projects to improve teacher preparation programs and to encourage teacher leadership. Teams consisted of active teachers, representatives from university teacher preparation programs, teacher candidates (like myself), “critical friends” provided by the Teach to Lead, and other important stakeholders, with the goal being to encourage all voices to be heard and to gain various perspectives on how to improve teacher preparation programs.

The recurring theme throughout the Summit was the idea of allowing all voices, including teacher leaders and students, to be heard. This idea resonated with me in that often times teachers and teacher candidates feel like our voices either cannot be heard or do not make a difference. Also, we frequently feel like we do not have a safe environment to voice our opinions. If teachers are truly to become teacher leaders, the mindset needs to change so that our voices can be heard. The Summit provided a way to shift this mindset by encouraging participants at all levels to engage in the conversation. Our voices were heard. The experience at the Summit allowed me to gain a new perspective on the importance of collaboration at all levels. Read more…

Guest Author

Kimberly Walden

Kimberly Walden

Secondary math education teacher candidate

Going the Extra Mile for MLK Day

Walking and other types of physical movement played a critical role in the progression of the civil rights era. But the physical movement started well before the civil rights movement, with such notable examples as Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad—first called the “underground road” since most people traveled by foot, not train.

Years later, in late 1955, civil rights activists launched and participated in the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, opting to walk or travel in personal or charted vehicles instead of riding segregated city buses. In 1963, around 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington, using their presence and voices on the National Mall to call for civil and economic rights. And two years later, in 1965, civil rights activists marched 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, calling for the basic right to vote.

The underlying themes of these examples and the civil rights movement at large were sacrifice and purposeful, organized action. How do educators build a deep, conceptual understanding of such abstract ideals? The first step is to set the scene. Read more…

Guest Author

Leslie Wills-Taylor

Leslie Wills-Taylor

M.Ed. '12 Elem Ed

JEA at the White House

sustaining-momentum-image-for-blogThis week it was a privilege to represent the Jefferson Education Accelerator and the University of Virginia Curry School of Education as a participant in the White House Convening on Better, Fewer, and Fairer Assessments.

It was a fascinating day, as I’ll describe below, but it was actually our third visit to the White House this year.

In October, I gave a presentation at the White House Symposium on the Future of Education R&D and Digital Learning about our work at JEA and UVA.  There, I discussed why the Jefferson Education Accelerator, Digital Promise, and the University of Virginia Curry School of Education are organizing a year-long Academic Symposium focused on the importance of efficacy research.  (Heartwarmingly, more than a dozen of the VIPs at the White House that day had already signed up to be among the 150 education leaders who have joined our effort.) Read more…

Guest Author

Bart Epstein

Bart Epstein

CEO and Managing Director, Jefferson Education Accelerator