A school system could have the most modern building, the most up-to-date equipment, the most conscientious school board, the most innovative superintendent, and the most caring principal but if it does not have capable teachers, it will not be successful and children will not get the best education that they deserve.
Reformers propose to improve the teaching profession by adding the rank of master teacher and by granting merit pay to a select few. The concept of a master anything is from the trades not professions. A tradesman is first an apprentice, than a journeyman, and finally a master practitioner. In a profession, for example, medicine, a person is first an intern than a doctor. There are no master doctors. If we do not believe that a person given the title of doctor has mastery of his profession, then we would not entrust him with our health care. The same attitude should be true of teachers.
We do not permit doctors to work with patients unsupervised until they have put in a long internship usually with doctors who are at the top of their professions. Minds are as important as bodies yet we permit teachers to take over a class unsupervised in many cases after only one semester of student teaching. As a student teacher, the student may not work with the teachers who are at the top of their profession. In many cases, teachers view supervising student teachers as an extra burden. The evaluation of the students is usually not done by the teachers in the school but by supervisors from the university or college the students attend.
Now is the time to initiate a change in this system, mainly because it is inadequate and does not produce the best teachers. Many teachers are reaching retirement age so there will be opportunities for new people to enter the profession. The following is just one example of possible change in the profession which would result in attracting and keeping the best.
All candidates would graduate from college with an academic major, not an education major. They would learn how to become a capable teacher through an internship in the school system. The candidates for an internship would be required to pass an examination, much like the Law School Admission Test. The test would be developed not only to evaluate the candidate’s academic competence, but also to measure some of the qualities both personal and emotional, which distinguish the good teacher. In choosing interns, the staff of the school system should have enough information to enable them to select candidates who would enhance the diversity of the staff already in place.
The successful candidates would then enter a two-year internship in the school under the supervision of tenured teachers. Interns would be paid, and, during these two years, they would have an opportunity to discover whether they have the talent, the gift and the love of teaching necessary to be successful in the profession.
During these two years, the tenured teachers would become knowledgeable about whether the candidate should be admitted to the profession or be counseled to leave it. Many people stay in teaching even when they dislike it and are unsuccessful because they have too much invested to leave. This system allows the candidate to leave without losing anything. He still has a college degree with an academic major and a chance to pursue other careers.
On the senior teachers’ recommendation, a promising intern would be offered a second two-year contract. During this period, the intern would continue to work under supervision, but would be in charge of a class. At the end of these four years, a mandatory tenure decision would be made after careful deliberation by the tenured staff. These teachers would have observed the intern in the classroom and would have compiled any information needed to make the decision. In essence, it is similar to the procedure by university faculties.
The concept of merit pay is damaging because many deserving teachers may not get it and they could become discouraged not so much because of the money involved but because of the lack of recognition for their efforts. The competition for merit pay could consume most of the teacher’s time, and it has the potential for turning classroom teaching into show business productions. What makes a teacher good is not showmanship but consistency of performance. The good teacher establishes a high level of competency and does not deviate from that level day by day and year by year. To know if a teacher is consistently good takes time. It cannot be done with one or two observations.
One of the greatest problems in education is the unevenness of the abilities of the teachers. A few inadequate teachers affect the output of the whole school and make it harder for the good teacher to function well and produce learners. Critics of education often point to these inadequate teachers and condemn the whole teaching profession. But why blame the teachers for this? They have no voice in the appointment or granting to tenure to new teachers. They did not make the poor tenure decisions; administrators did. The sad part is that administrators tend to move up and out of the school while the teachers are left to cope as best they can with these poor decisions.
The main goal of everyone connected with the school should be the optimum development and functioning of all of the staff and students. After all, schools are in the business of education. This should mean the education of everyone involved. It is a group effort, and if one member of the group fails, they all must take responsibility for this failure. In the same way, take credit for the successes. As things now stand, it is usually the principal or superintendent who is congratulated and honored for the school’s successes. This seems strange when it is the teachers who are the backbone of the school system. When they are successful, we all benefit, but especially the children. Now is the time to put into place a system which will ensure more successes.
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