Sunday, December 5, 2010

Not My Great-Grandmother's Teacher Working Conditions

In my early years as a teacher, the words “working conditions” would take me to thoughts of lower level needs: access to adult bathrooms, telephones to call parents, adequate planning time, and reasonable workloads (and my great-grandmother's duties of filling the woodstove and scrubbing the floors of the classroom in 1903). But a new report released by the Center for Teaching Quality has continued to change my way of thinking; the phrase “teacher working conditions” represents a more global perspective of teaching, what teachers need in order to be effective in a larger sense. Yes, teacher working conditions are much more complex than bathroom access.

Transforming School Conditions: Building Bridges to the Education System that Students and Teachers Deserve is the latest TeacherSolutions report released by the Center and written by fourteen accomplished teachers from urban districts across the country. The report focuses on research-based principles that will “undergird sustainable and effective teaching reforms.”

With recommendations on areas where schools, districts, teachers, as well as school administrators need to focus, this team of accomplished teachers has covered everything from student learning growth to how to embrace school communities as partners.

The report begins with a look at teacher education programs and how well they are preparing teachers for the realities of the classroom. It is not surprising to read that teachers are entering the profession unprepared to teach the second language learner and unprepared to become “student assessment experts.”

Other tidbits aren’t shocking: “Teacher attrition has always been an issue and research shows that the decision to stay or leave is directly related to teacher working conditions” while others are: “Teacher turnover is costing the country 7.3 billion each year.”

I was delighted to see a reference to the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey, a process that empowers me, as a North Carolina educator, to have my voice heard on everything from how supportive my administrators are to how helpful my professional development is. I'm not surprised that this team of teachers agrees that we must provide a way for teachers to share concerns about the workplace.

In addition, the report points to “five ways in which conditions in schools, state and local education agencies, and preparation programs are holding back student learning and a 21st century teaching profession:

1. Recruitment and preparation pathways for teacher candidates;
2. Assessment and evaluation systems for students and teachers;
3. Development of professional networks within and across schools to support teaching and learning;
4. Empowerment and professional leadership for teachers; and
5. Investment of community resources to develop and support effective schools."

This report is written by teachers who truly understand the obstacles to effective teaching and who also recognize what is right about schools today. For example, teacher residencies are touted as meaningful to pre-service teachers who are given time to understand the job from top to bottom and beginning to end as they are training “on the job” during an entire school year. There are also discussions on the importance of mentoring, the need for multiple measures of teacher evaluation, and the strength that comes from working in Professional Learning Communities.

Invest a little time into some meaningful professional development and read what fourteen of America’s great teachers are saying about working conditions in our schools. We, as educators, are lucky to have the Center for Teaching Quality who continues to utilize the talents of teacher leaders and impact education policy in our country.

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