Tag Archives: teachers

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week: Team Reflections

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley for EDUimages.

We’re celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week May 2-6. In honor of educators who have shaped all of us at Bellwether, we asked a few team members to reflect on a specific teacher who had a direct and lasting impact on their lives. 

Michelle Croft, senior analyst, Policy and Evaluation

My favorite teacher, Mr. Todd Black, is retiring this year. Mr. Black was my junior high and high school band director. I’ll always be grateful for his time, patience, and encouragement. Through my involvement in band, I had a creative outlet surrounded by a wonderful community (that Mr. Black fostered), and I learned perseverance that would serve me well in life and in my ongoing love of playing music. 

As an adult, I’ve also grown to appreciate how Mr. Black sacrificed evenings and a few weekends away from his family each year to take us to area colleges for honor band. As a first-generation college student, these trips were invaluable, not only for the musical experience, but for the exposure to different colleges.  

Thank you, Mr. Black, and congratulations on your retirement!  

Liz McNamee, associate partner, Strategic Advising

Ms. Rush had a tremendous impact on my life. She taught economics and also supervised our high school newspaper. Ms. Rush inspired me to examine and understand current events — and sharpened my writing so I could report on issues with depth and nuance. I enjoyed her classes so much that I strongly considered a career in journalism. Even though I didn’t become a reporter, my life trajectory would not have been the same without her mentorship. 

I appreciate Ms. Rush for her impressive tenure as a public school teacher, for her use of humor to make economics a fun subject, and for her guidance as I pursued my academic passions. 

DaWana Williamson, partner and chief operating officer

I had two favorite teachers growing up — my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson, and my seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher, Mr. Freddy Prinz.

Mr. Prinz is the teacher who had the biggest impact on my career choice to become an engineer. He made science exciting and fun, and no two days were ever the same. Mr. Prinz had a way of engaging a bunch of hormone-raging teenagers that felt authentic and so amazingly respectful, unlike so many of our teachers at that time! As I think back, Mr. Prinz must have had a great understanding of the teenage brain and what he needed to do to get the most from us. He was witty, energetic, and so much fun!

There are some teachers you experience so fully that you wish you could bottle the feeling you had when you were in their classrooms and share it with every teenager you know. Not only do I think it would give them a great love and appreciation for science, but I think it would change their lives. I know that’s what Mr. Prinz did for me. 

Katrina Boone, associate partner, Policy and Evaluation

Ms. Ashby was my drama teacher. Her class was rigorous, but she knew how to make things fun. She taught me how to do improv, read iambic pentameter, run the lights for a show, be a stage manager, and chase down the perfect piece of furniture for a set (before Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace).

I frequently stopped by her classroom after school to chat, and she always made time for me. She put down the papers she was grading or the lesson she was planning, looked into my eyes, and listened. I was a kid who desperately needed to be seen, to be listened to, and she was always there to see and listen to me. When I ended up on the other side of the desk as a teacher, I did my best to be that person for my students. (Also, she taught me about Simon & Garfunkel, and that is priceless.)

Media: “New York City Comptroller Wants to Start Country’s Largest Teacher Residency; Here’s 3 Ways to Make it Successful” in Gotham Gazette

Today in the Gotham Gazette, I have a new opinion piece about a proposed teacher residency in New York City. The residency, put forth by Comptroller Scott Stringer, would be the largest in the country and cost $40 million a year.

An excerpt from my op-ed:

Teacher residencies are a high-potential pathway into the classroom. And Comptroller Stringer’s plan is particularly promising. The residency would be an alternative certification program to prepare new teachers for the classroom. In it, residents would complete a year of training, primarily in the classroom, under the tutelage of an effective mentor teacher. Classroom experience would be complemented by relevant coursework completed at an institution of higher education. Residents would receive a living stipend during the program, and at the end of it, would be able to teach in a classroom of their own.

And there’s reason to believe that Comptroller Stringer may get his way on this. Past analyses out of Stringer’s office called out issues in physical education and arts education, which ultimately led to $124 million in investments in those programs.

Stringer obviously did his homework, and proposed a residency program built on current best practices in the field. But now is the time to think through implementation. Operating an effective residency requires careful planning and design choices. Here’s what would need to be done to ensure this idea works.

Read the full piece in the Gotham Gazette.

This op-ed is part of a series on teacher residencies. Read Bellwether blog posts in the #ResidentExperts series here.

Media: “To Promote Teacher Diversity, Ed Schools Must Look Beyond GPA & Test Scores. Here’s How Howard University Does it” in The 74 Million

Despite the urgent need to diversify the educator workforce, schools of education often struggle to recruit and graduate teachers of color. Part of the problem is that these schools tend to overvalue traditional metrics, such as grade point average (GPA) and performance on standardized tests like the SAT. In general, these measures are not strong indicators of who will be successful in the classroom or who will be a high-quality teacher. Moreover, setting minimum GPA and SAT scores for admissions can block many potential teachers of color.

Dr. Lisa Grillo, an Associate Professor at Howard University, and I wrote about this in The 74 Million:

Candidates’ GPAs, SAT scores and similar measures often are markers solely of the quality of their K-12 education and socioeconomic status. Indeed, they are themselves artifacts of a historically unjust and inequitable society. These seemingly objective measures are actually not that objective at all.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Howard University, for example, approaches teacher candidate section more comprehensively:

Candidates submit a detailed statement of interest that allows faculty to understand the compatibility between their desire for seeking the teaching degree at Howard and the social-justice orientation of the university’s programs. A panel interview then provides candidates with the opportunity to express themselves orally. Conversations between candidates and faculty provide valuable insight into candidates’ motivations, commitment, family background and educational experiences. They also allow faculty to establish personal connections with them before admitted. Faculty also solicit specific input from candidates’ academic advisers — from another school or college within the university — regarding their dispositions. Advisers are asked to reflect upon candidates’ integrity, emotional stability, promise toward professional growth and interest in teaching.

Read our full piece here.

How Teacher Turnover Hurt Improvement Efforts in These Minnesota Schools

This is first in a series of blog posts and resources to offer lessons and reflections for school leaders, district officials, and education policymakers using data and stories from the McKnight Foundation Pathway Schools Initiative. The series is supported by a grant from the McKnight Foundation.

As students come back to school this fall, many will find teachers and principals they’ve never seen before. About 16 percent of teachers leave the profession or change schools every year, and that number is even higher in high-poverty schools, urban schools, and low-performing schools.

How does teacher turnover affect students and schools? The research is not always clear. Several studies in urban districts show a general negative association between turnover and student achievement. One study found negative teacher turnover effects spread even to students with veteran teachers, suggesting turnover can impact schoolwide achievement and morale. But a certain amount of turnover is inevitable, and in some cases, staff changes can improve student scores by exiting ineffective teachers or allowing teachers to take on new leadership roles in schools.

The experience of the Pathway Schools Initiative, a seven-year effort to improve third grade literacy in seven Minnesota elementary schools, sheds further light on how turnover can hurt the momentum of school improvement efforts. With the support of the McKnight Foundation, schools participating in the initiative worked with the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute (UEI) to implement PreK-3rd improvement efforts.

All seven Pathway schools were urban (located in the Twin Cities metropolitan area), relatively low performing, and predominantly low-income. But rates of teacher turnover varied widely between schools and from year to year. The graph below shows the differences in PreK-3rd grade teacher turnover among four participating schools over a two-year period.

Ultimately, schools in the Initiative struggled to make significant progress in improving PreK-3rd grade instruction and literacy outcomes. An independent evaluation conducted by SRI International identified teacher turnover as one of the major challenges, among many, facing schools in their professional development and instructional change efforts. Evaluators also found some cases where newly hired teachers were associated with lower student performance, but results were inconsistent by school and by year.[1] Overall, professional development was a huge component of the initiative, and when large numbers of teachers left, that institutional knowledge and investment left too. As one teacher told evaluators, “We’ve had so much turnover among the staff that we’re reinventing the wheel every year.”

Data collected by SRI International, from SRI 2016-17 Pathway Schools Initiative Annual Report. Note: Data were not available in this time period for every school in the Initiative.

School improvement efforts like the Pathway Schools Initiative, which focused on assessment, instruction, and professional development, need a certain level of stability to succeed. But chronic educator turnover in high-need schools should not be viewed as an inevitable reality. In blogs to come in this series, we’ll continue digging into data and stories from these schools to look at the impacts of teacher and leader turnover and examine potential action steps schools, districts, and states can take to ensure turnover is not a roadblock to school improvement.

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[1] Schmidt, R.A., Chen, W., Torre, D., Woodworth, K., and Golan, S. (2017, April). The Role of Student and School Characteristics in Predicting Early Literacy Gains. Poster Presentation at the annual conference of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), Austin, TX, and Pathway Schools Initiative Phase 1 Case Study

Three Takeaways from the Arizona Correctional Educators’ Symposium

Last week, I spent a day with hundreds of teachers who work in Arizona’s prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities talking about the ways they can best support their students and continue to improve the ways that their systems operate. After presenting at the Arizona Correctional Educators’ Symposium, an annual convening and professional development event for teachers in secure schools from across the state, I found myself thinking about three key takeaways:

As in all education systems, needlessly complex bureaucracy interferes with effective teaching

Like conventional public education, most correctional education is managed by state agencies and sometimes delegated or contracted to other providers. Correctional education, however, has no consistent governance framework. Where most states have a state office of education that oversees local education agencies (LEAs), education in secure facilities is managed in nearly every conceivable way. For example, a state justice agency might have its own education division that is a complete system unto itself. Or the justice agency might have a state statutory obligation to delegate the education programming to an LEA. Or the state may determine that the geographic school district is obligated to provide education services to all secure facilities within its boundaries.

The most complicated systems to navigate are the ones in which kids cross agency lines as they move through the adjudication process. Arizona is one of those states. As kids move from arrest to confinement to reentry, they’ll likely attend several different schools managed by different agencies or offices. This means that education programming is often imperfectly aligned over the long term and that kids risk missing essential skills instruction or losing out on accrued credit hours. For teachers, they’re doing their best to meet the needs of the kids who show up each day in their classrooms, but they often don’t know who that will be (or how long they’ll stay).

The people who work in these schools are hungry for relevant professional development

I lost track of how many times a teacher told me how grateful they were to have the opportunity to get professional development from people who understand the constraints that they work within. These aren’t the kinds of restrictions that you might assume: teachers are far more frustrated by the loss of instructional time from frequent interruptions than they are about student misbehavior.

Today, most education training is focused on conventional community-based schools, and it doesn’t feel relevant for teachers in secure facilities. And most of the training that’s designed with them in mind is safety and compliance-focused; there’s very little offered to help them improve their practice as educators.

Teachers everywhere do the best they can in the circumstances that they’re in

I am always so incredibly impressed with the commitment and resilience of teachers who work in justice facilities. I spoke with a group over lunch who laughed that the response “But that doesn’t make sense!” should be the unofficial guiding theme of the policies that regulate their work. For example, Dante’s The Inferno is banned in school libraries, but the collective work of The Divine Comedy isn’t; Teachers hold statutory special education responsibilities under federal law for students disabilities but often only find out about a change in a student’s education program after a student has been moved out of their classroom; and teachers run their classrooms at the mercy of the secure care staff who have full discretion to pull students out of class or even to close school for the entire day.

But you know what I never heard at the symposium? I never heard a group of teachers complain about their students. Teachers that I talked to hold so much hope and optimism for the potential of their students, and despite many institutional incentives to become complacent, they still bring their best effort to their classrooms every day.