Those Who CAN Do, Teach
When I decided to become a teacher, the comment I received the most was “Why? You are so smart! Please don’t waste your life.” Twenty years later, teaching and I have had a grand love affair and the passion still burns. I am not sure what motivates me to wake up at 2 a.m. with ideas or why I enjoy talking about methodology for hours. However, I do know that I am not alone. I recognize the same passion in countless others who walk through the halls of our schools and change the lives of children daily.
As a doctoral student in University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I have made it the goal of my dissertation to develop an understanding of this great passion. I yearn to tell the story few news media outlets explore and few school systems recognize. I seek to know what motivates teachers to pursue expertise regardless of budgets, leadership and other elements found in school. I suspect that if we know the answer, we will have the possibility of truly reforming our profession to consistently provide the greatest gift we can give a child -- an effective, compassionate, amazing teacher.
In 2003, I had the privilege of becoming a Milken Educator. This was humbling, but the absolute best part has been the connections I have made with amazing educators around the country. That same year, I also heard Lowell Milken shared research concerning the rigorous selection of teachers in other countries. I thought to myself, “I bet no one in those countries is saying ‘Don’t waste your life.’” This little spark of an idea was ignited when I heard Lowell Milken describe TAP: The System for Teacher and Student Advancement.
The more I learned, the more I realized TAP is a framework built to encourage school reform by deeply valuing the role of effective teachers. It provides a career ladder for teachers, financial incentives, highly rigorous evaluations, and, most importantly, a professional development system that educates teachers how to think and make independent professional decisions.
Now, a few years later, I have experienced TAP as an administrator and as a master teacher who lead job-embedded professional development, demonstrates lessons, coached and team taught with career teachers, evaluated lessons and worked with the principal and leadership team to analyze data and analyze the school plan. TAP, when done with fidelity, is powerful.
Often when TAP is in the news, the highlights are on the financial incentives, but I have observed that teachers in the system place the greatest value on the learning and coaching through evaluations. After a recent evaluation, a teacher and I began working on her questioning technique during lessons in order to increase student engagement. Over the past three months, she developed consistent systems for increasing wait time, thus ensuring all students have a chance to answer. She now not only uses oral answer strategies, but also written ones such as quick writes. Her recent evaluation score in questioning increased significantly and — best of all — her students were on task with no behavior incidents occurring during the evaluation. Small focused steps, with consistent coaching and guided reflection, make tremendous differences in a teacher’s practice.
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TAP is not a canned program where everyone reads a script or works 20 minutes on the computer each day. One of the strategies we worked on this year was our stimulus strategy. After reviewing the data, the leadership team of master and mentor teachers found students often missed questions involving graphs, pictures, maps or tables. We developed a way to teach students to think through these types of stimuli and practiced this in each subject. Our 7th and 8th grade students who initially performed at 21 percent proficiency level were at 93 percent proficiency on the post-test after four weeks of working on the strategy.
TAP focuses on teaching everyone, from the leadership team to the students, to think. By providing a strategy and supporting its development, teachers learn the process by which to implement other ways and to think scientifically about their classroom techniques. In other words, teachers can demonstrate that they are trusted and valued professionals. What if our culture, both in schools and in public, began to trust and value teachers as professionals? How would our education system change?
In the development of new systems for training teachers and evaluating their effectiveness, Darling-Hammond and Rothman (2011) focused their research on three systems: Finland, Ontario and Singapore. In 10 years, these school systems have successfully revitalized their educational system. Interestingly, each of these governments has created attractive teaching conditions in order to recruit and retain the best candidates. Unlike in the United States, where the top high school graduates often pursue careers in medicine, law or business, teaching is a draw for academically talented youth who remain in the profession rather than leave to find more lucrative jobs. In Finland, for example, teaching was the top-rated job by college students surveyed in 2008. National and community leaders continuously express their belief that teachers are vital.
Using the research from the TAP model and the international studies as a foundation, I realized I have been a “thinking” teacher for most of my career, but I have not always been a part of a system that consistently developed me. My mix-methods study for my thesis is designed to explore what motivates teachers to be experts. My sample population is you, the outliers, award-winning teachers who consistently and constantly pursue expertise. I desire to tell your story to the world. I yearn to share why you do what you do by sharing both your amazing experiences and the not-so amazing ones. I am interested in how you developed a TAP-like system of thinking about your practice, even when you may have been alone in your school, or how a TAP experience pushed you to a higher level.
Passionate teachers have a story to tell and that story is that we have not wasted our lives. We know teacher quality has the greatest impact on student achievement during the school day (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Rockoff, 2004; Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Research indicates high teacher quality impacts learning gains across classrooms, even when compared within the same school. We have witnessed that two students in separate classrooms starting at the same level of achievement can know vastly different amounts at the end of one academic year. We realize that if a low-achievement year comes early in schooling, or if a low-achievement year is compounded by subsequent low-achievement years, it may not be possible for the student to recover (Sanders & Rivers, 1996).
We have a chance to change this, to make a difference in the future. Why? Because we are smart! We are motivated! Most importantly, we have not wasted our lives. We are the outliers. We can change our profession.
Amanda Mayeaux is a former TAP master teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. If you would be willing to be part of the story, email her at email@example.com or contact her through her blog at www.amandamayeaux.com.
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