Going hybrid to advance the TEACHING PROFESSION

08/09/2011  |  BARNETT BERRY
education career path

To dramatically improve America’s public schools, we must ensure that every student learns from an effective, well-prepared teacher in every classroom, every day.

This proposition may be a no-brainer — but how do we make it a reality?  I am fortunate that 12 accomplished teachers helped me take on this question in “TEACHING 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools... Now and in the Future” (Teachers College Press, 2011). One of the most critical steps we identified was restructuring the profession itself.

After all, America’s schools employ hundreds of thousands of accomplished teachers right now — but we aren’t defining and supporting their work in ways that maximize the impact of their expertise.  And many more teachers who have what it takes to become effective end up leaving the profession after being given challenging assignments without opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills.

Career advancements that allow teachers to remain rooted in the classroom are exceedingly rare. In fact, the profession’s structure often pushes effective, enterprising teachers out of classrooms and into full-time administrative roles.

 The Profession’s Current Structure does not encourage students’ and teachers’ success, because it often pushes effective and enterprising teachers out of classrooms.  

Our Proposed model enables an effective teacher to keep a foot in the classroom while taking on new responsibilities that build and spread his or her professional expertise.  

As TEACHING 2030 co-author Kilian Betlach put it, “First we ask new teachers to do too much with too little preparation, and then we ask too little of them in what should be the second stage of a teaching career.”  

That’s why we need a teaching profession that offers multiple pathways and opportunities for collaboration and advancement. In TEACHING 2030, we share some ideas about how a restructured profession could help our best teachers grow professionally — without taking those teachers away from students who need them. As former NCATE president Arthur Wise poignantly noted, we need to jettison the 19th-century “egg-carton organization” of schools that isolates teachers and assumes that every classroom of 25 (or, in hard times, 40) students is staffed by only one practitioner.

Here’s how a restructured career path might look. Teachers would start their careers as apprentices — initially observing mentor teachers and gradually taking on more and more teaching responsibility.  Technology, team teaching, and differentiated staffing patterns would allow for a wider variety of educators to serve students in both virtual and face-to-face settings, in and out of the “regular” school schedule.

Once apprentices developed into professional teachers, they could explore areas of expertise that matched their communities’ needs and their own skills. New “hybrid” roles would enable these expert teachers to spend part of their time working with students and part of their time undertaking innovative efforts to improve teaching and learning. Teachers in hybrid roles would be given time to lead their schools, mentor apprentice teachers, analyze assessment results, design curricula, observe and evaluate their peers, conduct research on best practices, develop tools for digital learning, and/or help to shape education policy.

In the restructured profession we imagine, not all teachers would serve in hybrid roles. Well-prepared, well-compensated generalists and specialists would teach full course loads while continuing to focus on developing their teaching expertise. 

This stable, interlocking group of teachers would be given the time and support necessary to collaborate effectively. As more teachers take on leadership roles, school leaders would take on some instructional responsibilities. The structure of a teacher team could vary according to the needs of students and communities.

Need help picturing such a career path? Check out the graphic created by teachers who are members of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Bay Area New Millennium Initiative. Inspired by TEACHING 2030 and their own policy insights, this innovative group of accomplished teachers has produced a remarkable graphic to show how the teaching profession could be restructured for student success.

Barnett Berry is founder and president of the Center for Teaching Quality in Carrboro, North Carolina. He authored TEACHING 2030: What We Must Do for Our Students and Our Public Schools… Now and in the Future (Teachers College Press, 2011) with twelve accomplished teachers from across the United States. For more information, please visit www.teachingquality.org and www.teaching2030.org.
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