On the heels of Teacher Appreciation Week, it’s fitting that we acknowledge an undeniable truth in education: When it comes to advancing student learning, the most important thing a school system can do is put an effective teacher in the classroom.
Research repeatedly shows that those students assigned to effective teachers make noticeably more academic progress than those who are not.
That’s why we need to work hard in Maine to make sure our students have access to some of the best teachers in the world.
Cultivating that corps of highly effective teachers will require much work by many people, but I’m confident we can create a system in Maine that better prepares our teachers for the 21st-century classroom and better supports them once they’ve started teaching.
I had the chance to advance my thinking about how we do that late last month when I attended the National Summit on Educator Effectiveness, an event sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C.
Discussions and breakout sessions at the summit confirmed for me our need to establish a comprehensive training pipeline here in Maine that better coordinates our teacher preparation programs, our certification and re-certification processes, evaluations systems and professional development in local schools.
All of those systems, institutions and processes need to be oriented toward the same goal: preparing teachers to teach in a world where we hold our students to high standards, allow them to take control of their learning and prepare them for college and 21st-century careers.
Too often, I hear from administrators that teachers don’t show up for work ready to do that. Their preparation programs are training them to teach in a way that no longer meets our needs.
Once teachers begin teaching, our schools are often missing valuable opportunities to honestly evaluate their teachers and use those evaluations to offer them constructive feedback on improving their craft. We can use our teacher evaluations as a way to determine what kind of continuing training our teachers need to keep improving.
When it comes to renewing certification, administrators tell me their districts spend countless resources paying for their teachers to enroll in local university classes that have nothing to do with their districts’ priorities. Instead, why can’t we more closely tie our teachers’ re-certification to a variety of professional development opportunities that align with the priorities set by our schools?
There’s more to teacher effectiveness than pay-for-performance and dismissing those we deem least effective. Rather, by focusing on cultivating an effective teaching corps, we’re focusing on helping our teachers realize their full potential.
Stephen Bowen is the Maine Commissioner of Education.