Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't mind me, I'm just taking a moment to vent

I'm fascinated by the story of Brockton High and it's academic turn-around. From what I've read it seems the school was able to turn around by creating a collaborative environment where teachers got together to work on a plan to improve the school. It does not sound like it was a top-down approach- no one was saying they had to do something one way or another. No one was fired, no one received merit pay. No text book company came in selling the perfect new way to achieve results. Outside consultants did not come in and offer insights.

The teachers got together as a staff, created a plan, carried it out, tested their theories, watched their students, made alterations as needed, and continued to work together to help each other carry out their plan.

It's amazing what happens when teachers are empowered to create change and then work together to do so.

Brockton High's new approach doesn't sound that different from the Think-Tank, my amazing school. We improve because we put our heads together, we watch our students, we take data, we set goals together, and we collaborate. There is no one perfect teacher leading the charge. No one is pointing fingers at someone who isn't on board. We work together, help each other, identify problems and work to rectify them before they negatively impact student's learning.

It's not sexy. There is not a hero because everyone works together. There is not someone coming in and immediately changing things because to be successful you have to sit, watch, learn, hypothesis, collaborate, test your theories, and watch some more. It would not make an exciting movie- a bunch of teachers working together- not being told what to do, but determining it for themselves. But we're not in the business of making movies. We're in the business of teaching kids.

Sometimes I think politicians running on education reform, as well as education policy wonks forget that we're not in the business of standing up and taking credit for what works. We're not instituting one magic bullet. We don't live in the world of Dangerous Minds where it takes one teacher. It takes a school, with adults who act like professionals, and are given the power and respect to be professionals.

Along the same lines I was equally fascinated by this blog post from ed sector, which writes about the 9th Circuit Court that just ruled that being highly qualified does not include being an intern and a first year teacher. To me this makes perfect sense. The first year teachers who enter our building after extensive year-long internship are amazing first year teachers. Imagine if every first year teacher was able to perform with that standard. Think of the kids who would benefit.

 As this blog points out, this is a huge blow to TFA, who gets around the "highly qualified" status only by calling their first year teachers "interns" as well as teachers. The blog post argues that "TFA produces some of the best and the brightest in education", which I take an issue with, but this is beside the point. Why can't TFA become a 3 year program and their teachers do internships their first year? Why are we so opposed to these "best and the brightest" spending a year learning like everyone else? Think of how it would benefit urban schools to be brimming with interns they get to spend a year training before they set them up in their own classrooms? Think of what amazing things TFA teachers could do after a year-long internship when they are gaining an understanding of school culture, classroom management, student developmental needs, and how to collaborate with other more experienced teachers?

Nothing creates positive reform than watching something go wrong, silently making notes on what works and what does not, and then, after a period of observing jumping in to fix it.

There is enough TFA press out there to start a campaign to get stipends for TFA interns out there so they don't have to have a completely poor year. Who knows, I'm sure TFA can create grants and all kinds of programs to support their interns.

I truly hope the Circuit Court ruling sticks- it would mean amazing things for our students.

***  And on another note, the same blog said, "Of course in the reauthorization of ESEA, this whole issue may go away, as the focus switches from highly qualified teachers (focusing on subject matter knowledge and training) to highly effective teachers (focusing on how well teachers actually teach). But, reauthorization may not be coming for some time especially following the likely realignment in the Nov election."

Please, please someone tell me that isn't a possibility. That we wont actually be getting rid of the requirement to have highly qualified teachers, but instead will put people in place for a year or two and wait for them to fail. That makes my stomach hurt. 

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