First Person

How can we produce more teacher leaders?

In order to build the professional capacity of teachers and to retain and attract great teachers to the profession, we need to identify, compensate, and produce teacher leaders.

For the first time in the history of public education, there are more teachers with one year of experience than any other level. The impact of this on the teaching profession can be profound. Applying Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour principle,” it would take at least 5 years for a teacher to gain the expertise necessary to be great at what he/she does. Teachers learn over time, and the role of teacher collaboration to ameliorate new-to-the profession teachers is key. Teacher leaders can play a key role in mentoring and assisting teachers and in establishing a culture of capacity building that can ensure all teachers grow.

Research shows that one of the major reasons teachers leave the profession is due to the relatively flat career advancement structure that exists. There are few opportunities for teachers to access higher earning and status positions that are found in other professions. The main opportunity for teachers to “advance” their careers has been leaving the classroom to become a school administrator. The establishment of career opportunities through teacher leader positions can help retain teachers.

More and more teacher advocacy organizations have emerged in the last decade. Organizations like Teach Plus, the Center for Teaching Quality, and the Hope Street Group recognize that elevating the teacher voice in education is key to improving education and transforming the teaching profession. Teacher leadership is one way to build the capacity and provide teachers with the leverage points necessary to transform public education. International comparisons to our education system reveal that the status of the teaching profession in our country lacks the necessary trust that other countries place in their teachers.

Teacher leader positions can take many shapes, some of which may or may not exist in some form today. But in general they heed these roles:

Mentor Teachers: Mentor teachers are responsible for the evaluation and mentoring of new-to-the-profession and struggling teachers. These teachers would be released from their teaching responsibilities full or part-time. Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) has been found to be an effective and well received approach to ensuring teachers receive the support they need, as well as ensuring teachers and administrators make the right decision when it comes to employment options. The traditional role of the administrator evaluating and mentoring teachers is a difficult, if not impossible, role to fulfill today, especially with new teacher evaluation policies, which require much more oversight and time. Imagine what would happen if both administrators and teachers took joint ownership in teacher performance in the best interest of student achievement.

Lead Teachers: These teachers are identified as effective teachers and trained to facilitate professional capacity building with their colleagues. Today’s teacher does not teach in isolation. Teachers are encouraged to work collaboratively with their peers in writing curriculum and assessments, as well as analyzing and adjusting their practice. Lead teachers facilitate these conversations. Building collaboration needs to be nurtured and identified if we are to build the professional capacity of all teachers.

Model Teachers: Teachers identified as master teachers assume the role of a Model Teacher. These teachers open up their classrooms for observation or video recording. By identifying Model Teachers, we can build a district and statewide bank of resources, as well as give other teachers the opportunity to observe and collaborate with teachers. This capacity building benefits all students.

Teacher Advocate Leaders: Teacher voice in policy decisions and implementation is sorely lacking, if it exists at all. Most policy decisions lack the input of those closest to the student: the teacher. In the book Everyone at the Table: Engaging Teachers in Evaluation Reform, the authors cite research that finds:
• 70 percent of teachers believe they are left out of the loop in the district decision-making process;
• 80 percent feel they are rarely consulted about what happens in their schools;
• 70 percent believe that district leaders only talk to them to win their support; and
• Only 23 percent believe that district leaders speak to them to gain a stronger sense of teachers’ concerns.

Opportunities for teachers to be involved in policy making would help propel teachers from continually being seen as merely reacting to policy decisions to being proactive in creating policy. Establishing a standing team of teacher advocates—as opposed to ad hoc or last-minute teams of teachers to react to policy recommendations—would improve the design, implementation, and sustainability of policy. Implementation of these policies would move teachers from compliance to commitment, since teachers would bes involved from the beginning.

All of these positions take new resources. We need to redesign the current compensation structures found in most master agreements. Our current system relies on the idea that each individual has the same basic responsibilities—it relies on a structure that reflects a flat teaching career. (See the “Tiered Pay-and-Career Structure” for a way to structure pay for master teachers that avoids the major pitfalls of the current pay-for-performance and bonus approach being used by some districts.)

We also need to rewrite state policy to allow for these teacher leader positions to emerge—state policy that recognizes and compensates leadership. One state to look to for guidance is Iowa. In 2013, Iowa passed a comprehensive series of policies called Building World-Class Schools for Iowa. Iowa took a comprehensive look at ways to systematically elevate and support the teaching profession.

This type of work is not cheap. It takes commitment and trust from state policy makers to make teacher leadership a reality. And state policy makers won’t budge unless they see support from their constituents. At the same time, we need teacher associations to make teacher leadership part of their mission and help change antiquated structures. It is also up to teachers to recognize their commitment to their profession and proactively work for change. These changes can benefit students and the teaching profession.

First Person

To close out teacher appreciation week, meet the educators whose voices help shape the education conversation

From designing puzzles to get kids fired up about French to being christened “school mama” by students, teachers go above and beyond to make a difference. Chalkbeat is honored to celebrate Teacher Appreciation week with stories of the innovation, determination, and patience it takes to teach.  
Check out a few of the educator perspectives below and submit your own here.

  1. First Person: When talking about race in classrooms, disagreement is OK — hatred is not by David McGuire, principal at Tindley Accelerated Schools and previously a teacher in Pike Township. McGuire is also a co-founder of a group called Educate ME.  
  2. First Person: What my Bronx students think about passing through scanners at school by Christine Montera, a teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators 4 Excellence-New York.  
  3. First Person: What 100 ninth graders told me about why they don’t read by Jarred Amato, High School English teacher and founder of ProjectLITCommunity.
  4. This fourth-grade teacher doesn’t take away recess or use points to manage the class. Instead she’s built a culture of respect by Liz Fitzgerald, a fourth-grade teacher at Sagebrush Elementary and Colorado Teaching Policy fellow.
  5. First Person: Why I decided to come out to my second-grade students by Michael Patrick a second grade teacher at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary.
  6. Meet the teacher who helped organize the Women’s March on Denver, a profile of Cheetah McClellan, Lead Math Fellow at Denver Public Schools.
  7. First Person: At my school, we let students group themselves by race to talk about race — and it works, by Dave Mortimer, and educator at Bank Street School for Children.
  8. What Trump’s inauguration means for one undocumented Nashville student-turned-teacher a profile of Carlos Ruiz, a Spanish teacher at STRIVE Prep Excel and Teach for America fellow.
  9. First Person: ‘I was the kid who didn’t speak English’ by Mariangely Solis Cervera, the founding Spanish teacher at Achievement First East Brooklyn High School.
  10. First Person: Why recruiting more men of color isn’t enough to solve our teacher diversity problem by Beau Lancaster, a student advocate at the Harlem Children’s Zone and  Global Kids trainer teaching, writing, and developing a civic engagement and emotional development curriculum.
  11. Sign of the times: Teacher whose classroom-door sign went viral explains his message a profile of Eric Eisenstad, physics and biology teacher at Manhattan Hunter Science High School.
  12. First Person: How teachers should navigate the classroom debate during a polarizing election year  by Kent Willmann, an instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. He previously taught high school social studies in Longmont for 32 years.
  13. First Person: I teach students of color, and I see fear every day. Our job now is to model bravery by Rousseau Mieze, a history teacher at Achievement First Bushwick charter middle school.
  14. Pumpkin pie with a side of exhaustion: Why late fall is such a tough time to be a teacher by Amanda Gonzales, a high school special education teacher in Commerce City, Colorado.
  15. This teacher was a ‘class terrorist’ as a child. Now he uses that to understand his students by Andrew Pillow a technology and social issues teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle.
  16. What this teacher learned when her discipline system went awry — for all the right reasons by Trilce Marquez, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 11 in Chelsea.
  17. Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address by Erin Glenn, a U.S. history teacher at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts and Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
  18. An earth science teacher talks about the lesson that’s a point of pride — and pain a profile of Cheryl Mosier, a science teacher at Columbine High School.
  19. A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business by Shanna Peeples, secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.
  20. How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate by Jean Russell, a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School,  2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year and TeachPlus statewide policy fellow.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.