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Op-Ed: Teachers Arent Widgets That Can Just Be Replaced

A national teaching fellow shares why respect, competitive salaries, and professional development are a must for American teachers.
By Greg Mullenholz, April 25, 2013

May 7 marks the annual celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Day in the United States. Approximately 3.5 million teachers will be applauded by their communities for the hard work they do and the sacrifices they make each and every day. Staff lounges will be stocked with sweets, treats, and lunch goods. Tokens will be shared, cards written, and banners hung. Teachers will be thanked for the countless hours they labor in classrooms, planning, grading, and doing whatever it takes to make sure that each and every one of their students has what they need in order to succeed. Sadly, we teachers face seemingly insurmountable odds in helping our students succeed, and much of the struggle does not come from outside influences; it comes from the system that teachers operate within. If May 7 marks the sixth time you will have celebrated Teacher Appreciation Day, then youve fared better than 50 percent of the teachers who started the same year you did. More than likely, the job you were
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trained for is not the one you entered. And most likely of all, you havent received the type of meaningful, targeted professional development that you know you need in order to grow and succeed as a professional. May 7, today, and every day, teachers should be celebrated, not for what they do, but for the challenges they face on a daily basis. To help change this, 5,700 teachers from across the country have raised their voices to demand better of the teaching profession. The U.S. Department of Education recently released the framework A Blueprint for RESPECT: Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching meant to address the challenges the teaching profession faces. To create the framework, these thousands of teachers pulled together their collective recommendations on how to transform the profession while elevating it to the level of respect usually reserved for law, medicine, and many other occupation. RESPECT delivers seven actionable and critical components that, while impressive and exciting in isolation, have to exist together. They are interdependent and are not in any ranked order. Seven Critical Components of the RESPECT Framework
1. A Culture of Shared Responsibility and Leadership 2. Top Talent, Prepared for Success 3. Continuous Growth and Professional Development 4. Effective Teachers and Principals 5. A Professional Career Continuum With Competitive Compensation
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6. Conditions for Successful Teaching and Learning 7. Engaged Communities.

RESPECT details how teachers want a culture of shared responsibility and leadership. Rather than being seen as replaceable widgets, teachers themselves recognize the impact they can make when treated as trusted professionals. Teachers want the best for their students and should be allowed to make decisions they see as being in the interest of students. As the gatekeepers of our profession, the Department of Education's framework also calls for a higher set of standards for teacher preparation. It demands that those who enter teaching have met a higher bar for entry. Once these talented professionals are granted entry into the profession, there must be more of a focus on continuous growth and professional development driven by meaningful and fair evaluation systems that accurately reflect our performance in the classroom. Our job is to nurture student growth, and the way we are evaluated should focus on this. Professional development should be a derivation of the information gained from these evaluations in an effort to help us grow and thereby help our students achieve. Teachers should know how they are doing and be able to take decisive actions in order to improve their performance. If evaluation systems are well-designed and well-implemented, then effectiveness will begin to emerge. Study after study shows that the teacher is the single-most important school-based factor in the achievement of students. If they are effective,
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and if they are led by an effective principal, then student growth will increase at an incredible rate. Some teachers, including those who are part of the 50 percent who leave in their first five years, enter teaching hoping to make a living wage. Unfortunately, the pay scales and steps that currently dictate our salaries dont factor in the performance of a teacher. Imagine if the same were true in other professions. Some teachers want to stay in the classroom for their entire career. Some want to take on leadership roles within their school or district while still teaching. And, some want to take on instructional coaching roles where they can scale their impact. This is why RESPECT calls for the creation of career ladders with competitive compensation for educators. Communities should embrace their schools and demand that they be highperforming and stocked with effective educators. And yes, while much of the work to complete the transformation seems focused on the professional teachers, an even greater part of the work has to do with the cultures where they work and the communities that surround schools. Dysfunctional school and district cultures do not attract effective educators and they certainly do not incentivize them to hang around. Communities should embrace their schools and demand that they be high-performing and stocked with effective educators. Teachers want communities to be involved in their schools.

So, as National Teacher Appreciation Day approaches, rather than cookies, donuts, cards, or balloons, we as an American public could show our appreciation for the millions in our country who teach by asking the simple questions: Why is RESPECT not the reality? And, what can policy makers, voters, business leaders, teachers, principals, superintendents, and others do to make this a reality? Teachers developed this, teachers want this, and teachers know this is the way to transform the profession.

Transforming Teaching and Leading


Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching (RESPECT)
An Educator-led Movement

RESPECT represents a movement within the education profession to elevate and transform teaching and leading so that all of our students are prepared to meet the demands of the 21st century. As the demands of our world continue to expand, our students need educators who are well prepared, compensated, and treated as professionals.
A New Vision for Teaching and Leading
Resources Teaching Matters Newsletter Teacher Talk on Homeroom Blog Get Involved and Access Resources Teaching Ambassador Fellows Contact Us 5

Classroom Resources

After two years of discussion with teachers, school leaders, and other stakeholders, the President has unveiled a Blueprint for RESPECT [PDF,4.5MB | ePub, 1.2MB ]. Read the President's plan to assist educators in their work to transform their profession. Seven Critical Components
1. A Culture of Shared Responsibility and Leadership
In a transformed profession, educators take collective ownership for student learning; structures of shared decision-making and open-door practice provide educators with the collaborative autonomy to do what is best for each student; and the profession takes upon itself the responsibility for ensuring that high standards of practice are met. In this professional culture, teachers and principals together make the primary decisions about educator selection, assignment, evaluation, dismissal, and career advancementwith student learning at the center of all such decisions.

2. Top Talent, Prepared for Success

Students with effective teachers perform at higher levels; students have higher graduation rates, higher college-going rates, higher levels of civic participation, and higher lifetime earnings. Thus, attracting a high-performing and diverse pool of talented individuals to become teachers and principals is a critical priority whether these are new graduates or career switchers, and whether they enter the profession through traditional or alternative pathways. We must support the programs that prepare highly effective educators and offer high-quality and substantive curricula and clinical preparation experiences. We should expand the most successful programs, help other programs improve, and close down the lowest-performing programs if they fail to improve after receiving support. Preparation should include significant clinical opportunities that involve highly effective teachers or principals to oversee, mentor, and evaluate aspiring educators (preferably in the school environments in which the candidates will ultimately work). Further, aspiring educators must meet a high bar for entering the
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profession, demonstrating strong knowledge in the content they teach; have mastered a repertoire of instructional strategies and know when to use each appropriately; have the dispositions and aptitudes to work effectively with students and with colleagues; and be learners themselves who know how to plan purposefully, analyze student learning outcomes, reflect on their own practice, and adjust as needed.
3. Continuous Growth and Professional Development

Effective teachers and principals are career-long learners. Effective schools and districts are learning communities where teachers and principals individually and collaboratively continuously reflect on and improve practice. Such communities of practice thrive when there is structured time for collaborative work informed by a rich array of data and access to internal and external expertise. We must take seriously the need to evaluate the efficacy of professional development so that we can more methodically improve it, channeling our investments into activities and supports that make a difference. From induction for novice teachers designed to accelerate their growth and development, to replicating the practices of the most accomplished teachers, professional development is a critical lever of improvement. As a profession, we must develop greater competency in using it.
4. Effective Teachers and Principals

Effective educators have high standards of professional practice and demonstrate their ability to improve student learning. Thus, effectiveness must be evaluated based on measures of student academic growth, evidence from classroom and school practice, and contributions to colleagues and the school community. The results of the evaluations should guide professional support and development, and inform personnel decisions such as teacher and principal assignments, the granting of professional status (e.g., tenure), promotion to leadership roles, and dismissal for those who, despite receiving support, are ineffective. Good evaluation systems should
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provide feedback to educators from both colleagues and supervisors that is meaningful, credible, timely, and actionable, and should use evidence-based processes that are fair, accurate, and transparent.
5. A Professional Career Continuum with Competitive Compensation

Educators are one of our nation's most valuable resources. We must create a profession that attracts great people into our schools and classroomsand keeps them in the profession. To do this, we need to offer educators career pathways that provide opportunities for increasingly responsible roles, whether they choose to stay in the classroom, become instructional leaders or move into administration. And these roles must be coupled with compensation that is high enough to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce; reflects the effectiveness, expertise, and contributions of each educator; and is consistent with the societal regard accorded to comparable professions.
6. Conditions for Successful Teaching and Learning

High-functioning systems can amplify the accomplishments of their educators, but a dysfunctional school or district can undermine the impact of even the best teachers. We need schools and districts whose climates and cultures, use of time, approaches to staffing, use of technology, deployment of support services, and engagement of families and communities are optimized to continuously improve outcomes for the students they serve. Further, we must be prepared to get the best teachers and principals to the highest-need students (including low-income students, minority students, English learners, and students with disabilities), and to ensure that all students have access to the other resources (such as technology, instructional materials, and social, health, and nutritional services) necessary to support their academic success.
7. Engaged Communities

Finally, no community can flourish unless its children are safe, healthy, well-nourished, and well-educated; and no school can be a strong pillar of a thriving community without deep community responsibility for and ownership of the school's academic success. Thus, recognizing that the fate of communities and their schools are inextricably linked, we must make schools stronger by educators embracing community resources, expertise, and activities; and we must make communities stronger by anchoring them around highly effective schools.

Tracing the Path of RESPECT Conversations


Milestones of RESPECT
Seeds of a National Conversation

Educators have long recognized the need to elevate the teaching profession so that our schools are able to attract and retain the best educators. Groups like the Center for Teaching Quality and Teach Plus emerged out of a desire for educators to continue to develop their talents and leadership. Beginning in the summer 2011, Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) began connecting with teacher leadership organizations to hold a national conversation with teachers and leaders. Their goal was to engage educators in crafting a vision of what a transformed profession might look like. View Arne Duncan's call to teachers to redesign the profession. Follow the Fellows' path. Over a two-year period, the Fellows spoke with approximately 5,700 educators in more than 360 group conversations.
Emerging Consensus

As conversations between educators and the Department took place, a number of national organizations began issuing reports about their own work to transform the profession. These reports revealed both a growing consensus for elevating teaching and leading and a unified vision for what a transformed profession might look like. [expand/collapse]

Early Discussions (summer and early fall 2011)

Initial conversations with teachers and leaders, led by ED's Teaching Ambassador Fellows, centered on developing a teacher-led vision for the profession. To focus the discussions, teachers read and reacted to a three-page framework called "A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century." Read [PDF, 64KB] this early prompt.
Expanded Discussions (late fall and early winter 2011)

In later conversations, educators examined ideas raised in by earlier groups. The prompt used to guide these conversations took the form of an extended outline of the vision that teachers had described in previous groups. After reviewing this prompt (that had grown to about six pages), teachers reacted thoughtfully to the proposed vision and talked about what it would take to create a profession like the one described. Read [PDF, 45KB] the discussion prompt.
A Shared Vision, a Seminal Agreement

In May 2012, eight national organizations came together at a Labor Management Collaboration (LMC) Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, to sign a ground-breaking Shared Vision: Transforming the Teaching Profession [PDF, 517KB]. These organizations represent a wide range of the stakeholder spectrum, including: teachers' unions (NEA and AFT), school boards (NSBA), school administrators (AASA), mediators and counselors (FMCS), state chiefs (CCSSO), the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS), and the U.S. Department of Education. The shared vision for transforming teaching and leading reflects the work of eight different national organizations who agreed on these critical components. [expand/collapse]
Describing and Refining the Vision (most of 2012)

Once teachers had contributed to the creation of a vision for the transformed profession, conversations in 2012 centered on refining the vision and getting it right. [expand/collapse]
Continuing and Expanding the National Conversations (late 2012 and 2013)

Since late 2012, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows have continued to talk with educators about the RESPECT work, but the conversations have shifted in several ways.

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Expanding the Dialogue The Fellows have worked intentionally to involve many more stakeholders in conversations that include not just teachers, but also administrators, students, teacher preparation professors, , parents, school board members, and even legislators. Traveling to multiple regions, the Fellows have sought to convene conversations that allow people at all levels of education to weigh in on the vision, to hear about how the transformation of the profession affects, and to discuss what they believe are the most important components. Shifting the Conversation Rather than asking about what a vision for a transformed profession might look like, the conversations have shifted to the relative importance of the critical components in given states and districts, to how the work is playing out in various schools, and what stakeholders at all levels can do to shape a transformed profession. Instead of using the Vision statement as text, the Teaching Fellows refer to the LMC's Shared Vision: Transforming the Teaching Profession [PDF, 517KB]. This universal document was signed by the eight organizations at the Labor Management Conference.
What's Next for RESPECT?

Growing RESPECT in schools and districts In many schools and districts, educators already are working to transform teaching and leading. [expand/collapse] The Educator's Role No federal agency can cause or sustain the kind of revolutionary change that teachers have told us they want in their profession. Most of this work takes place on the ground level, in classrooms and schools across the country. [expand/collapse] The Federal Role President Obama believes that while government cannot fuel a revolution, we can support the work of visionary educators working for change. [expand/collapse]

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Trace the RESPECT movement from its inception and learn more abouthow the vision was developed. Read the RESPECT vision [MS Word, 147KB] for the profession developed by teachers and leaders.

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