AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Teacher experts reflect on advancing
the profession

Late last year, the AFT made waves in the education world when its Teacher Preparation Task Force released "Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession." With its call for a rigorous, bar-like exam for teachers to enter the profession, the report "put a significant and visible stake in teacher prep territory," said AFT president Randi Weingarten.

The goal, she said, is to develop confident and competent teachers who are ready to teach on day one. "This notion that you can just throw people the keys and they can do the work is devaluing our profession," she said.

Advancing the Profession

From left, Ronald Thorpe, Linda Darling-Hammond and Randi Weingarten.

At a TEACH plenary session, two of the leading lights in the teacher education field joined Weingarten to chat about what it takes for teachers and teacher educators to advance and own their profession.

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University Graduate School of Education where she launched the School Redesign Network and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She stresses the importance of allowing teachers to develop their expertise over time, and through exposure to expert teachers in a mentoring capacity. She cited, for example, residency programs such as one her graduate school has developed in collaboration with the San Francisco school district and the AFT-affiliated United Educators of San Francisco.

Ronald Thorpe, president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, talked about the board’s mission and why it was created, through the influence of the late AFT president Albert Shanker, among others.

The idea, Thorpe said, was to take a page from the medical and other professions. "It was all built around the idea of standards of practice. By definition, you don't become professional in the first or second year. It takes time. Why are we the only profession where experience doesn't seem to count?"

Weingarten asked the experts about how communities and educators can push to get adequate funding.

"We're still waiting for this part of the agenda," exclaimed Darling-Hammond. "Obama said, 'if you go into teaching, we will pay for your education.' That comes with an expectation that teachers will stay in the profession so we don't get the churn.

“The federal government does pay for teaching hospitals through third parties. We should have the federal government pay for teaching centers."

The discussion turned to ways teachers can collect and interpret data and evidence to understand better what students need in the classroom, and to areas where teachers can benefit from focused professional development.

Collecting this evidence in portfolios is part of the NBPTS certification process. "We're taking the videos of Board-Certified Teachers and reflective papers, and putting them into a data base that will be available to everyone. This puts in the minds of teachers what accomplished teaching looks like—and how accomplished teachers think about their teaching."

Learning to teach, collaborating and passing it on should be part of a continuum, said the speakers.

"One of the biggest challenges for us as experienced adults is to understand that the next generation needs more than what we have," said Thorpe. "Over time, that will build the profession. That is what is happening in medicine, architecture and engineering. We have to have the courage to say we didn't have that opportunity, but my young colleagues have to have it."

[Barbara McKenna/photo by Michael Campbell]