Teachers nationwide are feeling increasingly heavy burdens as school systems are working to increase academic rigor, measure a growing list of student outcomes and step away from standardized testing models that focus on rote knowledge.
At the same time, divisions are having trouble finding talented, well-qualified teachers to staff their schools, as low salaries and strict licensure requirements shrink the talent pool.
The University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent joined with the Center for American Progress’ TeachStrong initiative Tuesday to convene a panel of experts to discuss the future of professional development for teachers in Virginia and around the country.
The solution, Trent said, is increasing educational, emotional and financial support for teachers in the commonwealth. The state is evaluating new approaches as part of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s initiative to redesign high school.
“As we redesign high school, we are going to have to look at how we teach across the curriculum … and it is going to change a lot of things, I think, because we are going to have to look at how we prepare our teachers,” she said. “We are going to have to look at if we are providing them with the kinds of support and the kinds of information and knowledge they will need to be successful in the classroom.”
McAuliffe earlier this year directed the state board of education to rethink high school graduation requirements and how future students will earn high school credits.
The directive also asks the board to focus on hands-on learning and internships and externships for high schoolers.
Panelist Adam Erbrecht, principal of Daniels Run Elementary in Fairfax County, said his highest-quality applicants tend to come from more rigorous professional development programs.
“Over the last five years of being principal at Daniels Run, I have seen the decline in the number and quality of candidates that has occurred,” he said. “The candidates that we are seeing coming from professional development schools specifically, though, I have seen an increase in their level of reflection, in their willingness to be collaborative, look at data and explore new best practices for students.”
Trent pointed to the Richmond Teacher Residency, a four-year program administered by Virginia Commonwealth University and Richmond Public Schools, as an example of a way to better prepare teachers for changing standards.
The four-year program grants participants a master’s degree and pairs them with a veteran teacher in Richmond Public Schools. Participants spend their first year teaching in partnership with a mentor and finishing the master’s, said panelist Dale Williams, who works for the program.
The result, Williams said, is teachers who are better able to self-critique and change.
“We are finding that participants become very much more reflective on their teaching,” she said.
Charlottesville City Schools teacher and panelist Shannon Giliken said more flexible credentialing programs could help increase the talent pool and afford teachers more freedom.
“I have a master’s in early childhood developmental risk, which means I am specialist-certified, birth to 5 years old, and I am regular education certified for pre-K through third grade,” she said. “We no longer have a dual endorsement like that; you have to get separate degrees, which I think is a huge pitfall.”
Erbrecht said strict licensure gets in the way during hiring, also.
“It makes a lot of difficulties for hiring, when there is not some flexibility to see a great candidate who has the potential to meet the needs of the students in my building but hasn’t jumped through these separate hoops that are required,” he said. “I understand the need for high quality, so we can certify that our staff are prepared, but those bureaucratic logistics get in the way.”