Top teachers explore solutions to biggest education issues
Put some of the best brains in education in one room to tackle difficult issues facing schools, and what do you get? A lively discussion and an expansive set of innovative and intriguing ideas.
For example, how about creating a "mission" program that allows the state's most highly qualified teachers to take leaves of absence from their regular jobs to go into school districts with the greatest needs? Right now, those teachers tend to be concentrated in the wealthiest districts that can pay the highest salaries, but they are probably needed the most in poor urban and rural districts with the largest number of high-needs students.
Nearly 100 of Wisconsin's 350 National Board Certified Teachers - the cream of the crop of the state's teaching corps - hashed out these difficult issues and potential solutions during a two-day summit Monday and Tuesday (August 7-8, 2006) at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan. The meeting was sponsored by WEAC. Their solutions are being compiled into a report that will be made available next spring to the Department of Public Instruction, policymakers and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.
The main focus of the meeting was supporting and staffing the state's urban and rural "high-needs" schools - those schools that have relatively few resources and serve large concentrations of children from low-income families - children who tend to bring the biggest challenges to schools.
Often, these school districts are forced to pay low salaries and thus tend to be staffed with less experienced teachers. The educators at the summit agreed that bringing more experience into these schools would benefit the teachers currently there, as well as the students. But how do you do that?
One idea was to create a state program to subsidize teacher salaries in such districts to bring salaries in line with other districts so highly qualified teachers would not have to sacrifice their family incomes to work in a high-needs school.
Other ideas included:
- Loan forgiveness, moving expenses, housing support and signing bonuses for teachers who agree to teach in high-needs schools and stay for a specified period of time.
- Job sharing and team teaching opportunities and flexible scheduling.
- More prep time for teachers.
- Cultural support programs to help teachers adapt to new environments, whether urban or rural.
- Smaller class sizes, adequate technology, administrative support, mentoring, and strong professional development programs.
- Give teachers a role in the recruiting process, instead of concentrating it in the hands of Human Relations departments, and review HR techniques to make sure they are "polite and welcoming" and effective in attracting and retaining the best teachers.
- Create regional organizations through which rural teachers can collaborate and share support.
- Tap into the resource of retired teachers to provide mentoring and support.
- Eliminate the Milwaukee residency requirement to increase the pool of teachers who would be interested in teaching in the city.
- College tuition incentives for high school graduates who are studying to become teachers, provided they agree to teach in a high-needs school.
- Creating Future Leaders programs in the high schools to encourage young people to become teachers, and to focus on the benefits of teaching high-needs students.
- Provide social opportunities and community-building programs and activities to make teachers comfortable in their work environment.
- Involve teachers in policymaking and leadership opportunities.
- Provide ongoing regular and constructive feedback.
- Regularly recognize teachers for their successes with students.
- Reassess the impact of high-stakes testing on the classroom environment.
- Work with the community to communicate the importance of teaching and encourage parents and citizens to treat teachers with respect, as professionals.
In addition to tackling that formidable issue of bringing highly qualified teachers into high-needs schools, the educators also developed lists of ideas for improving teacher professional development, increasing the leadership role of teachers in the schools and communities, and increasing the diversity of teachers in the classroom.
With a critical need for more minority teachers, the challenge of attracting and retaining them became a key focus of discussion. Among the ideas generated to address this issue were:
- Start training students in high school to become teachers, and create an organization such as Future Educators of America.
- Provide opportunities for high school students to explore teaching through such activities as tutoring and camp counseling.
- Create financial incentive programs that cover college expenses for students who seek education degrees, and expand scholarships.
- Engage businesses through a program such as Adopt a Future Educator.
- Encourage universities to create more flexibility in their scheduling of classes.
- Increase salaries to attract highly-sought-after, talented students into the teaching profession.
- Provide paid internships.
- Create programs that help education support professionals currently working in schools to become teachers.
The summit was one of six being held throughout the country. Participants expressed hope that the ideas they generated will lead to legislation that improves the quality of education for all children.
Posted August 9, 2006