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Teachers Talk Changes to Their Profession

February 22, 2012

Not a ton of time to post this early morning but I thought this article was interesting in the Mercury News.  Teachers are beginning to discuss what all the changes in education mean to their profession.

As policymakers zero in on the role of teachers in public schools, the U.S. Department of Education has launched the RESPECT Project, an initiative to change the teaching profession and raise its status in American society.

In some 100 schools nationwide, small groups of teachers have weighed such proposals as making teaching colleges more selective, offering apprenticeships for teachers-in-training and creating career paths for teachers.

Joanne Weiss, the chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, said the department aims to hold events for 5,000 more teachers in the coming months. She said classroom teachers will be key to the success of the project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.

“If it’s not led and driven by the people who are doing this every day, it’s not going to take off,” Weiss said.

If fully funded, the new initiative might include a $5 billion grant competition for states and groups of school districts to try out certain ideas.

Genevieve DeBose, who taught in Oakland and Los Angeles before moving to a school in the Bronx, N.Y., facilitated nearly a dozen round-table talks last week, including in Oakland, Newark and Los Altos. At Lighthouse Community Charter School in East Oakland, she typed notes on her laptop as teachers dissected the language and the principles contained in a 10-page discussion document from the Education Department.

DeBose said she applied for the U.S. Department of Education’s teacher ambassador fellowship, in part, because she was frustrated by the disconnect between the reality in her classroom and the policies coming out of Washington.

She said she has heard a wide range of reactions to the document, from anger to enthusiasm, and that she felt the feedback would be a valuable “reality check” for policymakers.

As DeBose prepares to return to her school, she hopes some of the proposals become reality — such as a career ladder that allows successful, experienced teachers to stay in the classroom as they take on more responsibilities, with higher compensation.

“It’s exciting for me to think that if these things do happen, I could be a lifelong teacher,” DeBose said.

Marciano Gutierrez, a social studies teacher at Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, believes such changes are long overdue. “Teaching is a profession. The only way it works is if it’s treated as a profession,” he said.

As a teacher fellow for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization Hope Street Group, Gutierrez helped lead some of the Bay Area discussions. He said some teachers expressed “policy reform fatigue,” saying they’d heard such promises many times. But, he said, those he met didn’t disagree with the ideas.

Alice Mercer, a teacher from Sacramento who has participated in a national “Save Our Schools” movement against the U.S. Department of Education’s policies, has reservations.

Mercer said some of the proposals sound appealing but that she will wait to see what the administration actually does.

For instance, she said, she is against the use of student test scores for teacher compensation and evaluation — and that she’ll be surprised if the department provides funding for projects that do not include that particular reform.

Weiss acknowledged some of the ideas the department has proposed are more popular than others. Still, she said, a common vision has begun to emerge.

“The question is how to get there,” she said.



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