Day 5: Prepare effective teachers

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It may sound like a platitude, but that doesn’t make it any less true: No factor is more important than a student’s relationship with his or her teachers. Nothing can spark an interest or light a fire more deeply inside a student than a teacher. While that relationship is a personal one, a simply friendly rapport has pretty limited educational value. It has much more of a master-apprentice feel—and that means teachers must have subject mastery. Simple mastery of a subject does not a great teacher make, but it sure sets down a great foundation to work from.

Here are three steps to ensuring that our teachers are fully prepared for the task:

  • Strengthen new teacher quality through strong course requirements for prospective teachers. Continuing education and remediation through professional development programs cannot ensure adequate subject knowledge, whether in STEM subjects or in English and History. The state should immediately increase the quality and number of undergraduate courses required in teacher focus areas, such that prospective teachers possess at least a college minor in their subject area, and within two years raise the minimum requirement of an undergraduate major in their subject area.
  • Objectively test prospective and current teachers, and increase the pass score for all subject area teacher tests on a regular basis. Massachusetts has some of the most academically rigorous teacher tests (the so-called MTEL tests) in the country. But just as with our MCAS tests, passing scores are not as high as they need to be. They were set by volunteer committees consisting chiefly of licensed teachers in each subject area, working in conjunction with a small number of faculty in higher education (usually from our schools of education, not the arts and sciences). Future committees should include representation of a full range of university faculty to ensure that teachers have the level of academic knowledge needed for students’ success in college and the workplace.
  • Focus professional development (PD) on academic coursework in relevant subjects. The state and local school districts should allow teachers to pursue PD in the form of authentic academic coursework in areas such as English, mathematics, science, and history. Too often PD is, if we are going to be honest, is not worth the time–or, worse, can be politicized. State-funded PD should be focused on the academic content areas that form the basis for the state curriculum frameworks. Teachers’ plans should be approved by the teacher’s principal, who should ultimately be held accountable for the academic growth and performance of his or her faculty.