Continuing Teacher Education

I’ve had some thoughts about the Baraki/Caldeira hooha first reported by Abigail Shrier (it will come as little surprise that I am disgusted by the teachers and rolling my eyes hard at Shrier), but one detail of the story caught my attention and it struck me as an interesting topic to discuss. I do plan on eventually responding to the overall story, but for the impatient you can infer a great deal from this article.

The detail in question: Baraki and Caldeira were presenting at a union conference and I’m like what the hell is a union conference? They have the political shindigs every year but this is clearly something different.  So I dug into union conferences to see where they fit into the teacher education universe.

Despite having chosen a career developing human capital, teachers have much the same attitude towards additional education that layfolk have in their own careers–that is, they don’t think much of it. Doctors and lawyers also have recertification requirements. I suspect doctors really feel they need to be updated on current technology, while lawyers probably view it much the same way as teachers do–an annoyance. But that’s just a guess.

Not all states require recertification education, and some districts ensure that sufficient PD is built into the year so the teachers don’t have to do any extra. But in most states, as the excellent Stephen Sawchuk explains, teachers have to drum up a bunch of hours to prove they’ve done some work, er, professionally developing.

Then there’s the practice of paying teachers for education, which began when unified districts wanted a way to pay high school teachers more than elementary school teachers but has morphed into a pay for play practice. Do not imagine, readers, that teachers fondly look for intellectually exciting courses to build their own human capital. Some teachers want to become principals and so paying for an admin degree is worth it. Others just find the cheapest way to get an MEd. Some–a very small number–want a Master’s degree in their topic–sometimes an intellectual challenge, other times to have access to additional teaching opportunities.  But I’m always amused when some education critic says portentously, “There’s no proof that a master’s degree improves educational outcomes.” Did someone get paid to research that?

Anyway. As you can see, there are two large categories of teacher education that they generally have to fund themselves to keep their job and get more money.  It is in this universe that union conferences exist.  The takeaway for the Baraka/Caldeira story: union conferences are cheap–at least for the teacher. They’re probably in fun locations so that teachers can at least hang out by the pool or take the family for a weekend. They are also attractive to progressive teachers who want to brag about the equity self-improvement they are undertaking. TThey are cheap–unions often give grants to attend them and help fund the CEUs. I have to believe the unions are making bank on it somewhere, although I’m uninterested in the details.

But they aren’t well-regarded.  They are unlikely to be funded by tax dollars in any way (and if Shrier were interested in really making a difference instead of getting credulous parents to hyperventilate, that’s what she’d ask about.) Union conferences are in no way evidence that these organizations are “instructing” and “advising” and “educating” teachers in any serious way, as Shrier charges. They are merely are offering seat time for teachers who need something cheap and easy, and are usually taught by other teachers looking for resume fodder (presented at LBTQwhatever Conference on Engaging Gender Clubs). More on that in my next article.

Take away the pesky policy requirements that union conferences exist to fill and it’s pretty tough to get teachers in the classroom. The two other broad categories are conferences for some sort of district or school mandates, which will in almost every case be offered by consultants–remember, folks, Jo Boaler bills. These will not be union conferences. They’ll be some sort of big picture approach. They will always be the new new thing. Teachers are not paid for attending, but they’ll get a few days off, food money, and people to party with if it’s 50 miles away. The conferences themselves will be very expensive.

The last category of teacher education is the summer fellowship, usually offered by research universities or large companies, often funded by NSF or other government grants. These fellowships do what the professional education requirements are supposed to do–keep teachers aware of modern developments in their field and pay them to engage in research, practice, employment…whatever delivery mechanism they think will work. The pay is usually excellent and teachers are often given money for instruction materials. The teacher deliverables apart from hours worked is almost always curriculum, along with presentations to potential donors to show how successful the program is. Examples: Ignited, RET (Research Experiences for Teachers), various Fulbright Grants, and many others. Also, career-technical teachers usually have to take courses to qualify to teach a given curriculum and if they work for a district they’ll be reimbursed a lot for their time (a few thousand dollars, usually).

So at a high level, teacher education looks something like this:

Description Choice Paid to Paid by How much?
Certification courses (required) Required in many states Varies Teacher or districts Not much
Education for pay increase Required Higher institutions Teacher, usually College tuition rates
District Mandates (optional) Usually optional Consultants District always A Lot
($3500-5000 per person in fees, plus stipend or sub for teacher)
Funded research or initiative Optional Teachers Gov’t Grants, Donors A Lot
($7-9K per summer)
CTE training Optional Teachers District A Lot
($1-2K per course)

So I’m hoping this table reveals something important: first, teachers don’t really want to spend time in education, particularly not education they pay for. The price tag for convincing teachers to give up their summers for education and opportunities that far exceed the crap they pay for is pretty significant. 7-9K is far more than summer school pays.

However, there are well-funded programs eager to reach interested teachers, and it’s clear enticing teachers to sign up for genuine intellectual engagement takes a serious chunk of money for relatively few teachers.  Moreover, these opportunities have a hierarchy, with STEM teachers at the top, other high school academic teachers far below, and all other teachers down at the base with limited options.

In a more properly ordered world, we’d can all the required make-work education and create fellowships or research internships that are available to all teachers, not just those in subjects that feds and donors care about. Pay teachers a good chunk of money for….well, what would probably be the equivalent of good ed school seminars. Let participants talk about teaching, listen to lectures about topics in their field, create curriculum and present it, practice delivery, get feedback. Might be fun.  It might even prevent millions of dollars from going to grifters or ideologues for little more than allowing bored teachers to check off a few hours.

Another suggestion I’ve made before is to offer significant recompense for additional credentials, particularly math, science, and career technical. Give teachers coursework or professional experience to build towards hard to find expertise that won’t only increase them along the pay scale but also work towards a second credential that will increase their pay. Make real education worth achieving for significant pay increases, not a few thousand dollars once they reach 25 units.

(The reason teachers aren’t given incentives to get additional credentials:  the pretense that teachers should be subject matter experts . Can’t have an English teacher doing the coursework to teach algebra if needed because algebra teachers should be real mathematicians! Except you don’t find any, and instead it’s a sub with no teaching experience and in that world an English teacher with some algebra knowledge is a huge step up.)

On the other hand, if that option was made too attractive, who’d be left to teach summer school?

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