Last Friday I had the privilege of talking about the future of the teaching profession alongside an amazing cast of teachers, leaders, researchers, and policy folks at EWA’s annual conference in Philadelphia. The TED-type format–12 minutes for each of us– was fun and different from the regular panels (kudos to Greg Toppo who was a great MC). And it gave me the chance to walk on stage to Fishbone, which is a bucket list item I never knew I had. I presented some results from our new yet-to-be-released survey of teachers. But before I get to that, some highlights of a few of the impressive 12-minute talks that came before me:
SASS-master Richard Ingersoll, at home on the UPenn campus, shared some demographic stats about teachers. That image you have of the young inexperienced female schoolteacher? It’s right on. The workforce is greening instead of graying and is increasingly female. University of Michigan’s Deborah Ball opened with a slide of an airplane cockpit, asking how we’d feel if the pilot announced before take-off that this was her first flight but that she had always loved airplanes, had done pretty well in physics in college, and was really excited to fly a real plane for the first time. That’s what we’re doing in education, she said, when we stick a classroom full of students in the hands of an inexperienced teacher who may be enthusiastic but is just as likely to crash and burn as she is to succeed with those kids. Ted Mitchell said today’s schools were more like battleships that we expect will fly, which explains why New Schools is all about fresh ideas and is less enthusiastic about putting wings on big old clunky ones. Roxanna Elden’s straightforward description of teaching was hilarious. She should write more books about teaching and should also have her own sitcom, or at least a guest appearance on Glee. Tom Kane shared, in Avenger terms, what we know about measuring teacher effectiveness: no single superhero metric is as good as three of them working together (that would be observations, student achievement data, and student surveys). In a tribute to Philly, Tony Bryk came out punching to Eye of the Tiger and talked about how the future of teaching is (mostly) about improvement, a case he is making through the Carnegie Foundation’s push for improvement research (where networks of people are simultaneously studying and learning about how and why change occurs).
On to a quick sneak peak of our own new teacher survey results (based on a nationally representative sample of 1,100 public school teachers, a follow up to our 2008 Waiting to Be Won Over):
- Teachers have a lot of complaints about unions—high dues, forced dues, long contracts with rigid work rules—but they aren’t giving up on them. More than 3/4 of all teachers say they would be worse off without a union, vulnerable to school politics, and would have nowhere else to turn if they faced unfair charges.
- Teachers are more likely to think unions should play a role in reform. In 2007, half said unions should stick to bread and butter protections and only a third said they should focus on reform. Now it’s evenly split.
- Teachers are feeling pretty good about evaluation. Compared to four years ago, they are less likely to say evaluation is just a formality. Asked about their most recent formal evaluation, the majority say it was done carefully and taken seriously by administration (78%), the feedback was meaningful and helpful (62%), and the criteria was fair and relevant to their work (76%).
A lot more to come. We’ll be blogging about other survey results, including findings on pay, tenure, and some differences between newer teachers and veteran ones in the coming weeks, and then releasing a full report later next month.