What’s Missing from the Teaching Profession – According to Teachers

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As the national focus on teacher effectiveness, assessment, and measurement continues to intensify and, in many ways, determine the future of the teaching profession, those who are directly impacted (ahem, teachers!) are working hard to have their voices heard by policymakers. A white paper authored by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) does just that. Re-Imagining Teaching: Five Structures to Transform the Profession is the first of three papers penned by the recently refocused organization, which houses a professional network of state teachers of the year and advocates for teachers’ involvement in the formation of policy relating to the teachers.

NNSTOY contends that there are five critical structures that are missing from the teaching profession (see the figure below) and the absence is prohibiting the profession from acting like a “true profession”. The paper outlines the five structures, and illustrates their necessity with anecdotes from former state teachers of the year. Check out a summary of the structures—and NNSTOY’s recommendations for policymakers—below.

Structures Missing from the Teaching Profession
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Source:  National Network of State Teachers of the Year

1. Actionable Feedback to Inform Practice

In recent years, the stringency of teacher evaluation has increased in over thirty states. That means principals and assistant principals are likely more accountable for assessing teacher effectiveness. Of course, this adds a huge new responsibility to already overburdened administrators. Additionally, federal, state, and local polices are requiring that far more data is collected these days – on students, on teachers, and on the school itself. NNSTOY recommends that principals be given an amount of responsibility that is proportionate to their other responsibilities when it comes to teacher evaluation, more professional development, and the tools to assess the data that are gathered on teachers.

2. Professional Career Continuums

As many critics of professional development in the teaching profession have noted, other than leaving the classroom to become administrators, there are very few ways for teachers to advance in their field. This is especially notable when comparing teaching to other professions. NNSTOY asserts that the lack of career ladder is a large reason that teachers, especially young teachers, leave the profession. (We’ve written a lot about this for teachers in early childhood education.) It recommends that states and districts adopt practices that enable teachers to move up professional development levels. An example of this is the “hybrid role,” which allows teachers to teach for a portion of the day and spend the other portion of the day coaching other teachers or working to advance teacher leadership.

3. Distributed Leadership Models

As with teacher evaluations and accountability, NNSTOY believes that the management of schools should not fall to one person, but instead should be spread across multiple people in multiple roles. Encouraging distributed leadership models in schools would take some of the burden off of principals and would give teachers and other administrators more of a leadership role. Most importantly, the report says, many of the highest-performing schools utilize a distributed leadership model.

4. Collaborative Practice 

Unlike the other points, this structure focuses solely on the teacher. We know that many teachers leave the profession because they feel isolated. If teachers are encouraged to collaborate with other teachers, these feelings might abate. And according to the paper, students benefit from the collaboration, as well since their teachers are more likely to be teaching at a higher quality and more confident in their role. Not only does collaborative practice assist new teachers (those who are likely to leave within their first five years of teaching), it allows for veteran teachers to take on leadership roles and share their craft. In some ways, then, this structure fulfills the goals of the preceding structures.

5. Guiding Principles for the Profession

Finally, NNSTOY recommends that the teaching profession adopt a set of guiding principles. This is another example of something that the teaching profession is missing in comparison to other professions (like the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). NNSTOY believes that the lack of these principles creates confusion, deters accountability, and lowers the level of standard of the profession. In this structure (and in all of its other outlined structures), NNSTOY strongly contends that teachers should be included in its development and execution.

NNSTOY’s first white paper articulates five ways that local, state, and federal policy can assist in improving the teaching profession from the inside out. As I wrote a few months ago, and according to two major studies, (the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher and TNTP’s Irreplaceables), many educators are dissatisfied with the preparation and professional development programs that are associated with the profession. And in some cases, the perceived lack of support is causing teachers to leave the profession altogether. That’s why there is still no better time than now for policymakers to listen to teacher’s concerns and allow their input to drive their decision-making.