Derek Mitchell

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.

•••

Derek Mitchell is CEO of Partners in School Innovation,  a nonprofit that works to strengthen teaching, learning and achievement in under-performing public schools and districts.

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  1. Don 11 months ago11 months ago

    Partners in School Innovation, headquartered in San Francisco, received about 2 million dollars in School Improvement Grant funding for consulting at a handful of SFUSD schools. On balance, it failed to raise the student achievement needle. PSI shouldn’t be instructing anyone on how to teach.

  2. Derek Mitchell 11 months ago11 months ago

    I appreciate Dennis and Michael sharing some comments about the feasibility and the nature of the 'ask' that leaders in some systems are putting out there. Dennis is right in that asking teachers to be 'super-human' is irrational, and Michael is right that the kinds of support many are seeking for their teachers can basically be summed up as 'more of the same.' Both truths are a large part of why we put this … Read More

    I appreciate Dennis and Michael sharing some comments about the feasibility and the nature of the ‘ask’ that leaders in some systems are putting out there. Dennis is right in that asking teachers to be ‘super-human’ is irrational, and Michael is right that the kinds of support many are seeking for their teachers can basically be summed up as ‘more of the same.’ Both truths are a large part of why we put this article out there.

    Dennis, sure many of our teachers in urban schools are serving a large number of students who are coming to them significantly under-prepared. In one of our partner schools, a teacher computed that she was responsible for three times the amount of learning that the average teacher was expected to produce, with the same resources, and in the same amount of instructional minutes. So yes, if we could get many of these students access to targeted, high-quality and effective after-school programs, that would be a great help to teachers in challenging classrooms like hers. Doing so is necessary but insufficient. We must also improve the learning that students are getting in those classrooms and that requires a different way of looking at professional development, support and resources. Rather than ask teachers to be super-human, we believe we should adjust support to meet the need. If a teacher has taken on the challenge of moving students three times as far, we must provide her resources that are commensurate with that task. Many districts are finding ways to do this and students are benefiting tremendously because of it.

  3. Rob Rinsky 11 months ago11 months ago

    Excellent post! Your articulation of the attributes that master teachers must develop is spot-on.

  4. Laura Cardilino 11 months ago11 months ago

    Dear Mr. Mitchell, I have been an educator of pre-k- 4 for 23 years. I am presently attending a CSUN Master's program. I have worked at a conversion charter in Pacoima that has gone through 8 administrators in the past 9 years and 3 Board turnovers in the past 3 years. I have seen corruption at the highest degree and very little support from the state, district, or unions to try and correct or improve it. … Read More

    Dear Mr. Mitchell,
    I have been an educator of pre-k- 4 for 23 years. I am presently attending a CSUN Master’s program. I have worked at a conversion charter in Pacoima that has gone through 8 administrators in the past 9 years and 3 Board turnovers in the past 3 years. I have seen corruption at the highest degree and very little support from the state, district, or unions to try and correct or improve it. I teach at a union school that was a LAUSD school prior to our conversion and the property and renewal are still overseen by LAUSD.

    With every new administrator that has come through our school, they have brought more change, disruption, and reckless spending as the principal before them. There appears to be a massive miscommunication with the public that private businesses are welcome to treat our public school systems, educators, and students as second-hand recipients of what has become a financial gain to business owners and management. It has become evident that the new generation of leaders are much younger and less experienced than their “Master teachers” and in some cases would like to eliminate the highest paid to be replaced by two new lowest paid in their place. Though we can acknowledge that there are those who do and those who don’t at every stage of teaching, it has become more and more apparent that expertise, proficiency, and ethics have become less and less valued in education. A field that guides the next generation who will make the hard core decisions for our future.

    I am elated that your article emphasizes the need for master teachers. However, the administrators must also hold some mastery in order to effectively manage our students’ education and the finances that are meant to support it. I have actually considered getting out of education due to the direction it seems to be heading. Your article gives me a little hope that the quality of education and appreciation for those who have dedicated their lives to enhancing education for the good of all is actually somewhat appreciated.
    Thank You,
    L. Cardilino

  5. Dennis Higgins 11 months ago11 months ago

    I don't think you're ever going to get this kind of performance from most teachers. The main problem in public education classes today is that students are all over the map in terms of preparedness. Most need significant – and varying – amounts of remediation, and the teacher simply can't address these needs while trying to manage the class and provide (as best or she can) the content that is stipulated for that … Read More

    I don’t think you’re ever going to get this kind of performance from most teachers. The main problem in public education classes today is that students are all over the map in terms of preparedness. Most need significant – and varying – amounts of remediation, and the teacher simply can’t address these needs while trying to manage the class and provide (as best or she can) the content that is stipulated for that course.
    Public school teachers need back-up in the form of an after-school service that provides individualized help to those students who need it (for as little or as long as they need it). To actually work (and not just be after-school “homework help”), such a program needs to be designed to match the curriculum as being provided by each of the student’s individual teachers. With computers, this sort of thing is now possible. If you want teachers to do all the great things you have listed (and who wouldn’t?), they need this support. Asking them to be super-human (which is what they would have to be without this support) is asking for something that is not possible.

  6. Michael Metcalf 11 months ago11 months ago

    I agree with you regarding the importance of experienced teachers in providing leadership in shaping a learning environment for today’s students. I would very much enjoy the opportunity to provide expertise, but those in charge aren’t asking for this type of leadership.

  7. Barbara Howard 11 months ago11 months ago

    This commentary is extremely insightful, and certainly rings true in every way for me. California’s teacher induction programs can be a key tool is developing these competencies and mindsets for beginning teachers.