California is trying to increase both the quantity of teachers and the quality of teaching. However, we should be wary about just expanding the pipeline of teachers. What we also need is a different kind of teacher.
Since the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the nation has broadened the expectations of whom our schools are expected to effectively serve. In the 1960s, the expansion included black students; in the 1970s, it was students in poverty and students with special needs; and in the 1980s and 1990s, it was English language learners. With the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, we codified the expectation that every child should perform on grade level by requiring proficiency rates of 100 percent by 2013-14 and mandating that student achievement data be reported for each student subgroup.
In the current decade, we have increased what we expect from teachers in another way – by adopting the Common Core State Standards, which go far beyond the learning expectations of the past and ask all students to regularly collaborate, persevere, evaluate, reflect and analyze. The Common Core requires all teachers to do what heretofore only our master teachers have accomplished: step back and let students construct their own meaning; craft learning environments where collaboration, investigation and discovery is a design principle of each lesson; provide choices and variation in pedagogical stances; and adapt to the needs of diverse learners.
All of this is to say that the competencies and instructional approaches that teachers need to be successful have become much more complex in recent decades. Most credentialing programs have not kept pace with those changes, and most school districts have not yet created the professional learning systems needed to shore up the training of new teachers, particularly for those serving poor students of color.
Widening the teacher-preparation pipeline is necessary but not sufficient. Our country and our state need systems that will produce masters of the teaching craft. Being a master teacher today includes:
- Content expertise: Knowing one’s subject so well that one can anticipate and address the full range of students’ misconceptions and develop just-in-time learning opportunities to address them.
- Cultural proficiency: Being culturally adept and responsive to the needs of diverse communities. We need teachers who check their privilege at the door, who ally across race and build students’ agency to transform their lives. We need teachers who prepare students to operate effectively in the world as it is while committing themselves to building the world we all want. Having teachers who can effectively teach cross-culturally is absolutely necessary.
- Proficiency with technology: Using tech-based personalized learning platforms to unlock student agency, creating skilled, reflective and lifelong learners.
- Project-based learning: Creating project-based learning experiences that gets students out of their seats, their classrooms and their schools to take risks and learn by doing.
- Improvement science: Studying their own craft to eke out every ounce of power from every strategy, tactic and tool. Master teachers are transparent about their own learning and take collaboration seriously in order to professionalize their teaching.
- Inclusiveness and respect: Disciplining students with justice at the center and not punishment; attending to the whole child; and holding asset-based mindsets about students, their families, their communities and their cultures.
- Leadership: Supporting their colleagues’ growth while maintaining their own touch and credibility. Master teachers are as effective at supporting the learning of other adults as they are with the learning of students.
- Facilitation of learning: Creating a stage for learning and getting out of students’ way – stressing right thinking, not right answers.
Figuring out how to produce many more teachers with the mindsets and skills described above is a significant design challenge, and California must address this complicated mixture of problem and promise. School districts must be innovative and rigorous with the $490 million that policymakers in Sacramento recently set aside to help them improve educator effectiveness. Simply producing more teachers with yesteryear’s preparation will not create the teachers we need for tomorrow’s classrooms. In partnership with universities, teacher training organizations, professional associations and other public agencies, California’s school districts can create systems that prepare a new kind of teacher.
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