A doctor, a lawyer, and a mechanic walk into a classroom

Students cannot choose their service providers. So how do we ensure effective teaching for all?

This post is co-written by Randy Barrette, NBCT, Spanish and World Cultures teacher and Technology Integration team member at Menifee County High School in Frenchburg, Kentucky, adjunct faculty for the Education Department at Morehead State University, past-president for the Kentucky World Language Association and a Kentucky Fellow for the Hope Street Group.

If I am a doctor and I start hurting rather than helping patients, how am I held accountable? If I misdiagnose the logical next steps toward recovery for the patient or prescribe the wrong medication, what are the consequences for my repeated poor performance?

If I am a lawyer and I advise a client without having read the most recent findings and precedents concerning the matter at hand, what is likely to happen due to my negligence?

If I am an auto mechanic and I don’t repair the vehicle as I have stated, who holds me accountable?

How can we, as teachers, apply these analogies to our professional practice? If we confront the somewhat uncomfortable question of what happens to ineffective educators? Are we mature enough as a profession to be solutions-oriented in finding possible answers even if they challenge our traditional notions of fairness?

Our profession amplifies and magnifies the analogies above.

A doctor, a lawyer and a mechanic have a brief interaction with the client and the client has the ability to seek services elsewhere if dissatisfied.

But attendance in our classrooms is compulsory.

Students cannot choose their service providers. Teachers unable to diagnose and prescribe logical next steps are a common experience for students. Many educators in our ranks are not aware of current shifts in designing authentic learning experiences and many of our students slide from grade to grade without ever truly learning how to be a learner.  Clearly, the compounding nature of our profession makes the issue of quality services-provided even more pressing and the fact that we are impacting the entire trajectory of a child’s life makes any concerns over fairness in regards to less-effective teachers rather shallow and short-sighted.

The question of what happens to ineffective teachers begets the more pressing question of how we can systematically facilitate the growth of effective teaching throughout our profession.

Thankfully, at least in the state of Kentucky (KY), the policy makers have done their due diligence in creating a system (a modified Danielson Framework) that if implemented with fidelity can completely change the culture of professional development for teachers throughout the Commonwealth. The full impact of this centralized policy is limited by teachers, as it should be.  If teachers drive this system and use the tools provided by the KY Department of Education, then it will be revolutionary in changing the learning experiences of our students, fostering teacher autonomy, mastery, purpose and voice, and creating an unprecedented learning culture from students to superintendents with untold, long-term economic dividends for our state in the decades to come. Or it could be yet another burdensome, centralized policy that is forced on the unwilling ranks of teachers in our profession; it truly is up to us.

One of the major points of controversy, and perhaps the component of our new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) with the greatest potential positive impact on our profession, is Peer Observation.  Soon all KY teachers will see Peer Observers in our classrooms. These heavily trained peers will record observations of student engagement and instructional practice detached from judgment and bias in order to engage in meaningful dialogue about designing a more effective learning environment. Teachers doing these observations must be well trained, have a strong stomach and be confident enough to state the facts and speak the truth. This brand of dialogue is not completely foreign to teachers accustomed to working within PLC’s and PLN’s (Professional Learning Communities and Networks) but the structure of this type of dialogue, based on observation rather than judgment, evidence rather than anecdote is intimidating for many in our profession.

So, for those keeping track: The question of “what happens to ineffective teachers?” begets the more pressing question of “how do we systematically facilitate the growth of effective teaching throughout our profession?” which begets a deeper consideration:

What makes a profession a profession?

  • Peer review is a logical first step toward making our profession a profession.  We must be willing to police one another if we are to gain professional traction and dignity.
  • We must set high standards for ourselves (and the Praxis exam for certification purposes is not the answer).  The NBCT model is at the very least a very credible starting point.  Why do we not hold all teachers to this high national benchmark? At the very least, our students deserve this safeguard.
  • As we advocate for increased teacher voice in managing and regulating our field of practice, we must also advocate for a deeper consideration of the untold riches found in student voice.  We have not holistically considered the repercussions of student voice.  Student voice is not a summative survey at the close of the learning cycle. Student voice is a daily process of facilitation. CTQ has considered teacher-led schools, but what would happen if we abandoned the baby-steps of isolated flipped-classrooms and created student-led schools? What would students choose to learn and who would they choose to learn from?  How would the answers to these questions change our profession?
  • It is high time that we intentionally connect all of the compartmentalized research on the essential hallmarks of effective teaching. How can we engage every educator in conversations around elevating our profession?

KY has reached a crossroads: Do we allow a revolutionary, unprecedented policy (PGES) to be placed upon us or do we take hold of this opportunity as professionals to manage our profession and drive this policy? We have been given some freedom to establish teacher leadership and teacher voice within the policy. Can we take this autonomy and build momentum toward mastering our profession? Or will we revert back to the shallow comforts of the utterly dependent, disenfranchised culture that plagues our profession?

It takes boldness and clarity of purpose to create a professional culture.

Time will tell, but dang, there is no time like now.

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