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Schools That Treat Teachers Like Professionals

Marc Waxman, who is opening a charter school in Denver, and Stacey Gauthier, principal of Renaissance Charter High School, are corresponding about school policy. Read their entire exchange.

Stacey,

Even though I won’t use this post to react to all the ideas you listed in regards to “what makes education in Finland that good,” please keep the lists coming!

If there is a dominant theme that runs through your list, it seems to be that teachers in Finland are truly valued and respected — that the profession on teaching is truly that — professional. I know I don’t need to go into the myriad ways that is not true in America, especially right now.

Moving the American education system, and the larger society in which it exists, to a place where teaching is truly a profession will require more than just changing the system; it will require systemic change.

But as school leaders at autonomous schools we need not wait for larger change. So I am going to throw my own list at you that describes efforts to value teachers at our new network of schools in Denver.

  1. It’s hard to become a SOAR teacher. We have a competitive, extensive, and intensive selection process for new teachers. Entry into our community isn’t easy.
  2. Teachers are held to high expectations. In education we often talk about the importance of high expectations for students. We also must have high expectations for teachers. Our teachers know that great things are expected of them.
  3. Accountability must support the culture of high expectations. And I don’t mean the student growth-data type of accountability that is coming into vogue. It’s about accountability to the work, to each other, to the craft of teaching. Let’s put it this way — at SOAR you need to grow, or you need to go.
  4. Growth can’t be expected without support, so we invest heavily in our teachers’ development. We allocate significant financial resources as well as time and energy to the professional development of our staff. Our teacher education is individualized (no one goes to a workshop that they could give themselves with their eyes closed as happens so often with teacher development). And we bring in experts to work with teachers — not just the teacher in the school down the road that may or may not know just a little more than they do. Nothing is more demoralizing and draining for a teacher than being expected to go to same old training.
  5. Teachers must have professional knowledge and expertise. Teachers at our school are expected to constantly refine their craft.
  6. Teachers have lots of responsibility. While we give teachers a ton of support and direction in planning their instruction, there is very little in the way of packaged or scripted curriculums in our schools. Teachers must think for themselves, put in the time to develop appropriate plans, and then revise them as necessary.
  7. We give our teachers what they need to do their job. Our teachers don’t have to waste their time on things that shouldn’t be their responsibility — like making sure there are enough instructional supplies, appropriate furniture, and resources for students and parents. That’s the job of school administration, not teachers. For example, every teacher in our school has come to us at some point this year for additional books that they felt were necessary to deliver quality instruction. No request was denied — in fact, teachers are often given the school credit card and sent to the bookstore to get what they need.
  8. Our school leaders are master teachers. Leadership and management expertise are not enough to become a leader in our schools. Even though we now have different responsibilities within the school, we see ourselves first and foremost as teachers. Therefore, it’s natural for us to understand and respect the work of teachers.
  9. Our teachers become leaders within our schools. Next year two of our teachers will be part of our SOAR Leadership Development Program — our in-house approach to developing and training exceptional teachers to be school leaders.

Notably absent from the list above is teacher compensation. I won’t pretend that we pay our teachers anywhere near enough. Our salary schedule is pretty much the same as Denver Public Schools. In the 2011-2012 school year, schools in Colorado will have to function on about $6,500 per student. This is unconscionable, but that’s for another blog post …

Would love to hear what you are doing at your school to further the profession of teaching.

Take care,
Marc

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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