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A Few “Bad Apples"

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I had really planned to address the issue of teacher quality later on in telling my story. However, since this has come up on the comment page. I would like to share what I have learned this year.


What I have seen at Brighton is like any school, there are teachers at different levels of their career not only in terms of years of service, but in expertise. I really like Kappa Delta Pi’s book,Life Cycle of the Career Teacher because we are all at a different stages in this journey. It is my contention that in order for teachers to grow and improve through this process certain factors must be in place. There must be a professional climate to work in that is saturated with meaningful professional development and role models who are dedicated to the craft of teaching.


To establish a professional climate, as teachers we must first view ourselves as professional educators with a teaching practice. I taught almost 20 years before I really understood that I had a professional practice. This revelation came to me in the wee hours of the night while working on my National Board Portfolio. The questions continually referred to my practice and it finally dawned on me that, “I had a practice!” (in my mind only doctors and lawyers had a practice). I loved this concept and I used the phrase throughout my portfolio, “In my practice...” I used it so frequently that my colleague who did much of my proofreading would scratch it out every time. Maybe he did not know he also had a practice! Teachers must have this sense of professionalism.

In my school, I see a need for models of how this looks at various stages. I was blessed to have mentors along my way who demonstrated to me what it is to maintain a professional manner even in difficult circumstances, never start the day without being completely prepared, were actively involved in professional development, constantly strived to improve their teaching, and not embarrassed about being passionate about their work. I strongly believe it takes a critical number of accomplished teachers in a school to lead the others. I worry about a group of really strong, young teachers in our school and wonder if they will reach what The Life Cycle of the Career Teacher refers to as “The Emeritus Teacher” without sufficient models.

Professional growth also takes additional training. I am proud of the fact that this year our school has been deeply involved in hours of professional development that has actually changed many classrooms. Our improved assessments are the evidence that this works if the training is embraced by the classroom teacher. In my travels as National Teacher, I met a retired teacher from Warrior, Alabama. She told me when she was packing up her thirty-plus years of teaching, a note came around to sign up for a summer reading workshop. She registered for the workshop. Her colleagues questioned her for doing such by asking her, “Why are you doing to this, you are going home?” Her answer, “ Next year I plan to come back and volunteer to work with students in reading. Therefore, I want to learn the latest strategies and methods to help the students.” Now this is an accomplished teacher, trying to improve her teaching practice to the very last minute. This should be the standard for all teachers.


Yes, there teachers who never reach this level of proficiency and for a variety of reasons. I do not think any teacher enters the field with the intention of becoming ineffective. I agree that possibly somewhere along the way they became too overwhelmed by lack of support, too isolated or did not have the needed skills to become an effective teacher. Our schools must be places that have the type of climate where teachers can grow and improve by providing appropriate teaching tools, meaningful professional development, and models of teachers who are intense about their work. This year it has been quite an inspiration to me to watch a young teacher in our school voluntarily mentor a first year teacher. This young teacher has taken on a responsibility that many will not and she has given freely of her time and knowledge. I have wondered two things as I have watched her diligence. First, does this first year teacher truly appreciate the gift she has given ? My first year of teaching was in an isolated trailer and on the first day of school the lead teacher told me she did not work with first year teachers. Secondly, will someone be there to mentor her to the next levels to become a “teacher emeritus”? This is part of our role as teachers to give back to our profession and seek ways to support our colleagues in their growth so that there are no “bad apples”.


I continue to welcome your comments and discussion of the comments. Your comments are very thought provoking. I also hope that wherever you live you are enjoying a lovely spring. This is my favorite time of year in the deep South.

7 Comments

Betsy,

It is interesting reading your thoughts on the value of having a mentor teacher and being a mentor teacher. I don't know the Kappa Delta Pi book to which you refer but would be like to read it if you can supply further information. What you describe seems to mirror my own experience in the profession.

Here in New York we've had paid mentor teachers for the past 10 years or so. It's been an interesting situation. I went through the training and, frankly, was rather embarrassed by it. Basically we were given four messages: do your paperwork, be nice, tell them what you know, do your paperwork. Aside from the first and the last, I couldn't quite figure out why I needed the training. I took being nice and spreading my wisdom as the givens of the job.

Like most things in teaching, I learned mentoring by doing. The first thing I learned was to keep my wisdom to myself. The real job was helping them find their own wisdom. Everybody tells young teachers what to do, often in complete contradiction of each other. What new teachers really need is a thinking partner; someone to work alongside them, exchange ideas with them, ask the right questions.

Two years ago, I was part of a team receiving a grant from the National Writing Project to develop a program to help new teachers. At the time, my school was experiencing a 40% turnover in staff every year (poor pay, poor conditions, little respect, openings in the better paid suburbs). In 2002, 57% of the 200 teachers in my high school (3600 students) had three years or fewer in the profession. The effects on the school were catastrophic. With the money we received we developed a program involving one-to-one consultation, access to free graduate courses (except for registration fees), several group meetings (including a writing marathon in Central Park), and a Listserv. Although all of the components were important, the Listserv, which allowed the teachers to set the agenda, ask the questions, refine their understanding, get teaching ideas and vent was the single most valuable aspect.

Teachers hunger to be heard, new teachers no less than veterans. I hope those faculty members in your school who are reaching out to the new teachers will keep that in mind

Hi Betsy,
I appreciate your views on mentoring and support.
As a second year 4th grade teacher in California, we are required by our district to attend a Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program
(BTSA)for two years. We are paired with a mentor/support teacher who helps us go through the program. I must say that it has been of great help to have someone there that I feel comfortable turning to when questions arise or support is needed. It has been a wonderful way to network with other teachers in our county, and share ideas while learning key points to help us become more effective teachers.

Hi Betsy, I really enjoy reading your journal. What an interesting experience for you and your readers. I have been a mentor myself for the past 4 years. I have enjoyed the experience. I work in a small special ed. school in Chicago. Love my job. Spring is beautiful here too. I love this time of the year too. Enjoy the rest of your year.

This morning, I read a Chicago Sun-Times article titled "1,116 city teachers flunk out." Principals in that city are just clicking on a list of reasons to send teachers packing. Then, I read your article about "No Bad Apples." Thank you for describing the type of school culture that encourages teachers and helps them succeed. I agree with you that we need have no bad apples and that "no teacher left behind" should be our goal.

Hi Betsy,

I really enjoy your comments and am finishing up my masters program to become a school library media specialist. Along the way there has been personal and professional challenges to reaching this goal. I have worked as paraprofessional and have noticed how valuable mentoring is for those who receive it and how difficult it is for those who don't. The biggest hurdle for a new teacher, in my humble opinion, is simply, pride. To value learning and growing as a professional one needs to pursue excellence and it comes with first acknowledging one doesn't know everything and to ask for help. Keep asking until you find someone who values the profession and working with children as much as you do. There are some fantastic teachers who can help me and others be the best we can be for the children and the community at large. I look forward to sharing what I've learned and experienced to make learning fun and enjoyable for others.

Hello Betsy! It is assuring to know that the same issues you bring up, are issues facing us all in this profession (not just regionally). From your post on April 18th "Testing Time" and this post "Bad Apples", I feel that you are bringing up the issues of improving eduction by improving 2 kinds of performance: 1) Student performance (testing) and 2) Teacher performance. Districts look to improve both throughout the year, and in my state (California) there is an extremely hard push to teach according to State mandated Standards. At the same time, at least in my district, BTSA (beginning teachers Support and Assessment) is mandatory for 2 years for first time teachers to help them improve their techniques. In this comment, I wanted to focus on improving Teachers perfomance in order to improve student performance. I have found my BTSA mentor, a social studies teacher - turned library-media specialist, to be a vital assistance to my own growth as a teacher. I think that Joe Bellacero's comments about Mentors to be right on the money - "Everybody tells young teachers what to do, often in complete contradiction of each other. What new teachers really need is a thinking partner; someone to work alongside them, exchange ideas with them, ask the right questions." I find his final comment to be particularly enlightening, "ask the right questions." The greatest asset BTSA has been to me is pairing me with a veteran teacher who ASKS me, "I like the assignment you have created. What do you think your students will have learned? Are you asking THEM to tell you what they have learned?" The right questions are so important to ask, and that is what makes a great mentor. I agree with you Betsy, no teacher sets out to be ineffective. But how can we as teachers improve ourselves? How can we organize that model? BTSA has given me an opportunity to be part of an organized effort to improve teachers. It is not perfect. Indeed, I find the overwhelming bureaucracy of the paperwork involved to actually be counter-productive to advancing as a teacher. The constant wash of worksheets and acronyms diluting my seriousness of growth to a point where I am just answering questions on a paper to be done with it. However, BTSA IS a start. It is trying to improve our growth as professionals. And overall, I find that all the new teachers get a sense that somehow, they WILL be better at teaching as each new year goes by. I am interested in hearing about other state's own professional growth programs in order to compare. Thanks for the assurances and comments.

Dear Teachers,

The two college students Erica Zelfand and Timothy Crespi are performing a Hike Against Hunger for the moment. They started hiking the Appalachian Trail, February 26 in Amicola Falls and are hiking all the way up to Maine. The goal for the hike is to spread awareness about world hunger and what you can do to end it. To make their hike more than symbolic they have decided to give all their funds to Action Against Hunger.

Support the Hike Against Hunger by spreading the word about the event or by making a online donation at www.actionagainsthunger.org. For more information about the hike please visit www.hikeagainsthunger.com.

Best Regards
Maria Wikstrom
ACTION AGAINST HUNGER
247 West 37th Street
New York, NY 10018
Phone: 212 967 7800

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