Creating a new teaching profession

It’s been an interesting few days here in Wellington, first at the DEANZ conference, and today with the VLN group. A common theme in each group was the notion of ‘transformation’ of our school system, and inevitably, the discussion turned to the issue of how we can work to ensure that our teachers are prepared to work in these ‘transformed’ teaching and learning environments.

So it was with interest that I read a review this morning of a new book, titled Creating a New Teaching Profession. Obviously, it was the title that caught my attention – however, the review has caused me to ponder a number of things that have been discussed in the forums I’ve been in this week.

The review begins with…

[the] book stitches together ideas—some of which may be controversial—for building an improved corps of teachers from the time they start their professional training until they retire.

And controversial they appear to be! The authors premise their thinking on the fact that research (including our own research from NZ!) clearly shows that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor influencing student achievement.

This being the case, the authors argue that we ought to systematically “de-select” the least performing teachers from our system, and conversely, begin to reward our higher achieving ones. Tying teachers’ pay to their performance,creating more-specialized teaching jobs, incorporating virtual teaching in schools, and revamping retirement systems are just some of the suggestions considered.

In one place the review quotes:

“Studies document a substantial investment [in professional development] being made across schools, districts, and states, with little evidence of a return,” writes Jennifer King Rice, a professor of education policy and leadership at the University of Maryland College Park. “The crux of the problem seems to be an incentive system that rewards teachers more for seat time than for performance.”

I feel I’d like to defend this sort of statement in our NZ context, where we have clear evidence of the investment in professional development (in particular, the ICT PD programme involving cluster schools) making a substantial difference. However, I realise it’s easy to view this with rose coloured spectacles – that in most of my interactions I only get to see the enthusiasts, the ones who have stepped up and are making a difference. It got me to thinking – is under-performance an issue in our schools? If so, to what extent? And if so, are the carrots and sticks suggested in this book likely to be the best solution? If not, what are the alternatives?

One thought on “Creating a new teaching profession

  1. Carrots and sticks? Alfie Kohn has a lot to say about the shortcomings of them for long-term systemic improvement. They may work in the short term, but over time actually are detrimental to intrinsic motivation. Most teachers I know are very strongly motivated by doing the very best for the children in their class and usually the whole school. Are extrinsic incentives or dis-incentives going to change or enhance this motivation? As Kohn says they reduce it – and that this “is one of the most consistent and largely ignored findings in behavioral science”.

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