To piggyback off of what I was saying about merit pay....
I have to say that I often get frustrated with those who claim to be "teachers" yet have no pride in the craft. There are bad people in every profession and I wish I could do more to control those in my profession who give it a bad name. I cannot influence the hiring and the firing at my district or many of the educational policies that come down from "on high". Instead of simply getting frustrated, here are the things that I have done/am doing to make a difference:
Most states require teachers to have a degree in education and/or in their field of concentration. I originally earned a B.S. in English Ed. In order to maintain my teaching certificate, I had to earn 24 credits beyond my B.S. degree to get a Level II certification. I chose to make those 24 credits count and so I put them towards an M.A. in English Literature. I felt a professional responsibility to know my subject even more thoroughly so that I could teach it even more effectively. It makes me ashamed to say that there are teachers in many schools (locally as well as nationally) who are teaching subjects with which they have only a passing familiarity. In Pennsylvania, you can take a PRAXIS exam for any subject area as long as you have an education degree and if you pass that PRAXIS, you can teach classes in that subject area. This means that you CAN (and increasingly DO) find teachers teaching subjects that they have not studied with any depth. For instance, a teacher could hold a degree in K-12 Special Education but yet pass a History PRAXIS and teach any history class at a junior high or high school level. This person was only required to take the same amount of history classes that ANY college graduate had to take (often only 1 or 2) but yet is teaching your child in a history class. I'm sorry, but I don't feel this is acceptable. In fact, I think it gives the profession a black eye. As professional educators, we should have a deep knowledge of our own subject matter as well as of pedagogy.
As professional educators, we should be seeking opportunities to grow professionally. About four years ago, my department head and I were discussing how we really felt that we needed to do more in order to make the Honors/AP Literature track a more challenging and more effective class sequence. We saw the need to develop stronger teaching skills and to learn more about what students in those classes needed to know and be able to do. Because of this, we found a summer program at a college about 3 hours away and decided to register. We spent an entire week with other English teachers from our state learning how to be more effective at our jobs. It was one of the best programs I've ever attended. I apply the things I learned there not only to my Honors/AP Literature courses, but also to my "regular" English classes. What's good for the "accelerated" kid is good for ALL kids! One single course helped me to be a more effective educator in ALL of my OWN courses.
Standardized testing is a dirty word in most educational circles. Debate it all you want, it's not going anywhere for awhile. We, as teachers, need to do more to have a voice when it comes to the tests our students are required to take. Last summer, I volunteered to help construct the field test items for my state's writing exam. It was very neat to see my students this spring answering questions that I helped to create. I'm going back again this summer to do the same thing. Last summer, while I was catching up on some work in my hotel room after a long day of test construction sessions, I got a text message from a co-worker asking what I was up to. When I told her where I was and what I was doing, she responded with "Ew...sucks to be you. Guess where I am? Pool side and getting my tan on!" She really thought that she was in a better place than I was and had no idea what she was missing. It was so awesome to meet teachers who are just as passionate about what they do as I am and to have our say in the tests our students would take. I'm going back to the state capital on Tuesday next week....this time to work on a modified state test that is given to students with Individualized Education Plans. I feel it is the right thing to do, professionally, and that we have no right to complain about these tests if we are not willing to do something about them.
As a professional educator, I believe we should be concerned with the future of the profession. This is why I regularly host college students who wish to do classroom observations. I don't get paid for this and it can be somewhat of an inconvenience having to give up some classroom space for them, give them copies of everything I'm giving to the students, explain to them what I've done in the classroom and why. I also have had 3 student teachers in the past 3 years. I want these future teachers to see teaching "done right" by someone who is passionate about her subject, about learning, and about teenagers.
I also feel that we need to do more to prove that we deserve respect as a profession. This is the reason why I voluntarily sought and achieved National Board Certification. This is a process that requires teachers to submit examples of their teaching (in the form of student work, videos of classroom teaching, samples of work done out of class to connect with the community, and tests to show proficiency and knowledge in the subject area) to professionals who measure what they see from that teacher against what is considered to be best practice in the profession. It was a difficult process and demanded a lot of me. I spent many hours analyzing my own teaching, identifying my areas of strength and weakness, evaluating student work, designing curriculum, and writing my reflections on all these things. After months of analyzing, writing, rewriting, self-doubt, breakdowns, and nervousness, I submitted my portfolio and completed my online testing. I found out in December of 2010 that I had passed and that I had earned my National Board Certification on my first try. This is NOT typical and I was very proud of this accomplishment. What did I get in return? Nothing. I didn't get a pay raise. I didn't get any "bumps" on the seniority scale. I didn't even get a "congratulations" from my school board or district superintendent. A few colleagues congratulated me(in person or via email). My curriculum director and principals did as well. My department threw me an impromptu celebration lunch. But...other than that...no big fanfare. What I DID get was the knowledge that what I do in my classroom is give my students the best education I can possibly offer them. And, as professional educators, that's what we should ALL be doing.
If you are a teacher, what do YOU do to make sure that you are being taken seriously? If you are a parent or a student, what are you doing to ensure that ALL educators hold themselves to this standard and how are you rewarding those of us who already do?