In recent years, the media have been alive with stories about the coming teacher shortage. As the current generation of master teachers retires and fewer young people go into the profession, we are told, it will become harder and harder for schools to populate their classrooms with excellent teachers. The numbers show that there is some truth behind the alarmist tales, and teaching continues to be seen in many quarters as a “soft,” low-paying, and low-prestige profession that attracts relatively few high-achieving students.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Teacher Retention & Development
Teachers are the most precious resource of any school. The measure of a great school is its ability to recruit and retain great teachers who know their subject and craft, care deeply about all their students, and are passionately committed to their own development and the school as a community. Here, find guidance for finding, preparing and evaluating teachers, and keeping them happy and productive stakeholders.
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As educators (and parents), we all know instinctively from our own experience what research confirms more scientifically: students learn better from good teachers than from poor ones. But what is it that makes for a good teacher? Common sense might tell us that good teachers know their subject and have a passion for what they teach. And it might tell us that good teachers are able to manage their classroom. But “common” sense is not always common or dependable. Some principals, for example, may praise a teacher because his or her classroom is orderly, while other principals may see the same classroom as overly regimented. And how do we know what teachers really know, and whether they know enough to teach to the highest level and inspire the most able students?
There is abundant empirical and documented evidence that we need more highly competent Jewish educators in both Judaics and Judaic-specific pedagogy for our day and supplemental schools. To this point in time, the Jewish community has not created a comprehensive, longitudinal and institutionalized structure for recruiting, developing and retaining Jewish educators. However, there is an obvious and elegant solution to this challenge: the implementation of an eight stage career development ladder for students and teachers in our Jewish day schools. This developmental ladder would begin in kindergarten, continue through middle and high school, extend through college and graduate school, and be fully implemented in our Jewish day schools.
The Y Generation, born from 1977 to 1986, are products of an increasingly global economy, where knowledge is power and laptop computers often provide the quickest means to attaining both. Many of today’s young teachers not only have access to millions of digital resources, they also have at their fingertips thousands of professional and social networks. They are receptive to working in teams, and they are good at it. They do not blink at the mention of blogging, Googling, and Wikipedia, or the use of social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube. Indeed, learning communities are their forte.
The upcoming RAVSAK conference in San Francisco promises to have joyful reunions, professional networking, and helpful workshops. Our conference is a time to learn from each other and from national experts.
U.S. chooses ‘change’” is the headline on my Internet homepage as I begin to write the introduction to this issue of HaYidion on the day after Election Day. Yet as we all know, change is scary. Nonetheless, change is the fundamental feature of education. The Latin root of the word “education” is “e-ducare” which means “to lead out.” Education always involves change, as we lead our learners out from the known to the unknown, from security to insecurity.
Each year at the Institute for New Heads, I give the school leaders some sardonic advice: “If something goes terribly awry, and you need to buy time to rectify it before your parent body finds out, suggest a change to the dress code. This tactic will keep parents embroiled for at least 18 months, so you can fix the problem you need to hide while the parent body is distracted.” Next July for the new group of heads, I’m going to add a similar strategy for the faculty: “If you need to implement a change that will, like all change, cause gnashing of teeth and drawing of battle lines, do it after you form a task force to study changing the compensation system to a merit pay model. The faculty will be so annoyed and preoccupied by trying to ameliorate that offense, the other change will seem minor by comparison.”
Contemporary school leaders often praise the virtues of collaboration and the use of data for decision making, yet it seems the more things change the more they stay the same. While it may appear that educational leaders are fixated on improving academic performance and promoting excellent teaching, the reality is that at most schools student performance is static and most classroom teachers fundamentally teach the way they did when they began teaching.
A “mentor” is defined by most dictionaries as “a wise and trusted counselor or guide, especially in occupational areas.” “Tutor” and “coach” are usually listed as synonyms, but there are some subtle differences between the three terms. A tutor is generally a private teacher whose job is to give individualized instruction in a specific area like French or chemistry. A coach may also be a kind of private tutor, someone who prepares a student for an academic examination or an athlete for a sports competition, and of course the common understanding of a sports coach involves the ongoing preparation and training of a team for sports competitions. In the last twenty years the term ‘peer coaching’ has gained popularity in education and business. Charles Slater and David Simmons (“The Design and Implementation of a Peer Coaching Program”) define peer coaching as “a confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to review current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; solve problems in the workplace.” Peer coaching is clearly different from mentoring in that peer coaching involves a relationship of equals, learning from and with each other.
High school history often gets a bad rap. When we think of history class, too often we imagine kids slumped over their desks, wondering, “What’s this got to do with me?” It’s hard enough to try and get our students to imagine what life was like before Facebook, let alone trying to get them to imagine what life was life 50, 100, or—dare I say it—1000 years ago. And yet, I would argue, history, of all the subjects in the school’s curriculum, has the potential to stir students in significant ways. History after all is a great story—especially Jewish history. For the so-called “me generation” teenager attempting to construct a meaningful identity in a world of competing influences, historical context can be powerfully compelling.
When most administrators hear the term “professional development” they picture their teachers sitting in a room learning about the latest and greatest pedagogical techniques and curriculum from “experts.” The hope is that the teachers will bring back ideas from the outside world and apply them in their classrooms. This typical image is not surprising given the way professional development has historically been enacted. Many scholars consider this approach to be a narrow conception of professional development, ignoring what is known about how adults learn and what teachers need to know and do to be effective teachers. (My analysis is based largely on the work of Cochran-Smith and Lytle, Relationships of Knowledge and Practice: Teacher Learning in Community.) Here I will propose new ways of working with teachers on professional development days, to make them more apt leaders and instructors.
Talented people are what differentiate great companies from weak ones. The same is true for schools. When parents are choosing among various schools for their children’s education, they assess the talent of the teachers as well as the environment the teachers and administration create for the students. As a result, managing teachers’ performance needs to be a top priority. It is essential both to reward and recognize exceptional teachers as well as to address performance problems of those teachers who are not meeting expectations. Below are some helpful tips on doing both.
One of the most powerful investments a school can make is in developing its teachers’ skills and knowledge. Ample research confirms what we all know from experience: some teachers are more effective at helping students learn than others. In fact, a recent study showed that the quality of a teacher’s instruction is the most important factor in a student’s academic achievement, more important even than that student’s past achievement. Said differently, even students who have struggled in the past can make great learning strides with a highly skilled teacher.
One of the most important moments of transition is entry into a new community. This is one of the reasons Jews, and cultures all over the world, have rituals to welcome babies into the human family, and to welcome adolescents into the realm of adulthood. Creating ritual to address new situations has occurred throughout Jewish history, and has been one of the gifts of contemporary creative Jewish life. In that spirit, RAVSAK invited me to invent a ritual for welcoming new teachers into day schools. I’m very pleased to explore this ceremonial opportunity in the pages of HaYidion.
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