FORUM | Choosing and training our teachers


“Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a ‘bad’ school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher,” wrote Malcolm Gladwell in a provocative New Yorker article published in October. According to the Bush Foundation,”students placed with the most effective teachers progress three times faster than those placed with the less effective teachers; teacher effectiveness is also critical to closing the achievement gap.”

On February 5, more than 250 people showed up at the University of Minnesota to listen to experts talk about “Benchmarking Teacher Quality.” Speakers and panelists at the forum, sponsored by the College of Education and Human Development, offered many ideas about finding, training, supporting and evaluating good teachers.

What are the solutions?

• Better subject matter training is needed. The Bush Foundation’s Peter Hutchinson said, “It should no longer be true that there’s math for education majors and real math for everybody else. It should be real math for everybody.”

• Teachers need better mentoring and supervision. St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva noted: “Teachers in Japan have teachers with them for first year. We don’t put doctors in surgery all alone.” Misty Sato, director of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative at the U of M, said that it is essential to have “separate responsibilities for formative (mentoring) and summative (supervisor) evaluations.”

Forum Responses

Steve Ford’s response: “… Teachers, parents, and students are jaded; those of us promising improvement had better deliver. …”

Ann Alquist’s response: “… if I were to put my money on what determines a great teacher, ask them what kind of relationship they have with the school librarian …”

• Teachers need more time to interact with other teachers. In the United States, 80 percent of secondary teachers’ paid hours are in classroom in front of class. In European countries, the average is 60 percent, allowing time for planning, learning, consultation and collaboration, according to Sato.

• Higher education programs should actively recruit new students for teacher training programs. They should be clear about their expectations, and should look for individuals with the academic preparation and personal characteristics likely to produce the most effective teachers.

• Support is about more than money. Garnet Franklin, staff at Education Minnesota, the Minnesota teachers’ union: “Teachers care more about support and respect than about salary. They care about salary, but they care even more about having schools that are conducive to high quality teaching and learning.”

• It’s not just the teacher – the school must be part of the solution. “Teaching quality should not be viewed as an individual teacher phenomenon,” said Misty Sato. “The culture and practices within a school have a strong influence on how teachers teach in their individual classrooms and how teachers’ practice develops over time.”

Question: What do you think?

Teachers’ professional commitments and passion for their work are on the line in this discussion. Yet, as one of the audience at the February 5 forum pointed out, there were very few K-12 classroom teachers in the audience and none on the podium. In his Chalk Break blog this week, Steve Ford made a similar point about lack of attention paid to teachers’ voices in education debates.

Not only teachers, but all of us are stakeholders in this debate – we all pay for education through our taxes, and we all reap the benefits of a better-educated populace. Students and parents have a more personal stake.

Whatever your stake may be, we invite you to join in the discussion by clicking on “Comment” below. If you’d like to contribute a longer analysis, sign in as a member and click on “write an article” or “post a blog entry.”