18 Mar Professional Development of Teachers is Absolutely Key
Professional Development of Teachers is Absolutely Key
By: Dr. Michael Ward
Generation Ready Advisory Board Member; Associate Member of the Graduate Faculty in Educational Leadership, University of Southern Mississippi
March 14, 2014
In Mississippi, as elsewhere, educators and business leaders are asking “How can we better prepare our children to be college and career ready?”
This is not a new question. It has been asked, in one way or another, ever since there have been jobs to fill and colleges to enter.
Yet today, the stakes are higher. Almost all of our nation’s fastest-growing jobs require either a college education or specialized skills. And too many young people leave high school prepared for neither.
Though we often struggle with how best to prepare students for what’s next, it all starts with giving our kids three fundamental gifts: capable, caring teachers; academic content that prepares them for life; and the confidence that there will be affordable postsecondary education and jobs where they can apply their education. While all three are important, I worry most about the first one — making sure our teachers have the experience and professional skills to help our students.
There is no doubt that caring teachers can be found in every Mississippi school. But we’re fighting an uphill battle to keep teachers where they are needed most: in the classroom.
The rate of teacher attrition, following a recession lull, is increasing. About 14 percent of teachers nationwide leave the profession after only one year. Between 30 and 50 percent leave during the first five years.
In Mississippi, about 4,000 educators leave teaching each year, and fewer than half of the exits are due to retirement. Attrition has left Mississippi classrooms with less experienced teachers overall. Of the 34,000 teachers in the classroom at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, only 4,274 had 25 years or more of experience.
Teachers leave for all kinds of reasons: lack of planning time, an extraordinary workload, behavior problems among students and lack of influence over school policy, to name a few. Many are frustrated that teacher salaries aren’t keeping pace with other professions.
So, one task is finding new ways to attract and keep the best and brightest teachers by improving school discipline, enhancing the work environment and stemming the erosion of salaries compared to other opportunities in the economy. But it’s also extremely important to help teachers gain confidence and improve teaching skills through strong professional development. In fact, professional development opportunities throughout a teacher’s career are one of the most important investments we can make in our children.
Quality teacher development addresses essential content and skills. This is especially critical as Mississippi begins to implement its Literacy-Based Promotion Act and the Common Core State Standards.
The most effective professional development programs are job-embedded — meaning education coaches are in classrooms providing consistent feedback and guidance — and are sustained over time.
Professional development also needs to be supported by data that allows the teacher, the school and the district to track progress and to make course corrections.
Finally, sound professional development is supported by collaboration, mentoring and coaching, and sustains the progress of students and teachers.
No doubt, preparing students for life after high school is a complex endeavor.
But it starts with teachers, and we owe it to our kids to make the profession more attractive and more rewarding.
Professional development is an investment we absolutely need to make.