Building Education Professionals; by Using the Academy Model, Schools Can Provide New Teachers and Administrators with a Built-In Support System and the Training to Become True Winners at Their Schools
Cunningham, Judy, Leadership
If we are serious about improving the educational system in the United States, we must be strategic in how we accomplish our goals. Only the best-suited and best-trained professionals should ever have the responsibility of teaching our children.
Existing teacher preparation and professional development efforts and policies fall short of addressing these needs. New teachers are introduced into the educational system after five years of college and less than 500 hours of actual classroom experience. Within this limited experience they are expected to accept full responsibilities of an experienced professional educator.
In contrast, doctors complete their course work and enter into an internship/residency where they work side by side with experienced doctors. This time in which doctors hone their skills is essential to producing capable doctors who remain in the profession.
This support is the missing piece for teachers. Teachers do not have a residency in which to hone their skills. This leaves them feeling frustrated, inadequate and unsupported. As such, the existing framework has resulted in 50 percent of new teachers leaving the profession within the first three to five years. This loss is particularly alarming knowing that in the next 10 years, California will need an additional 300,000 new teachers.
Experience has shown that paying the course fees and completing all required classes to graduate in no way guarantees readiness to perform in one of the most important of all professions -- teaching. Research and experience point out that collaborative reflective practice and an allocation of significant time, along with action research, are all essential components of effective professional development for teachers and administrators.
The academy model embodies key strategies that have been identified in the 1996 report, "What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future," published by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. Key recommendations of the commission's report are to reinvent teacher preparation and professional development, and to overhaul teacher recruitment and put qualified teachers in every classroom.
The Academy at South Lake Middle School seeks to provide an environment where student teachers and first-year resident teachers have the opportunity to hone their craft and work with experienced academy specialists/master teachers while building a network of professional peers. The goal of the academy is to first showcase an exciting model of professional educator training, and to then expand the model countywide and beyond.
Addressing the problem
The academy is a specialized teacher-learning and training model responding to the new teacher's need to support, nurture and develop excellence and expertise as we build educational professionals. The academy does this by providing support and training for new teachers and principals while helping experienced instructional leaders build professional capacity and capability through redesigning responsibilities and structures within our system.
A seed project of this teacher-training model, funded by Rockwell International through Project Tomorrow -- a collaborative of businesses and educators in Orange County -- began in September 2000 at South Lake Middle School. The project has expanded for the 2001-2002 academic year (see case study, page 35).
Funding the academy
The cost of release time for each teacher appears to be expensive at first glance. However, if one considers the return on investment, and the expense of having untrained, unsupported emergency credentialed people with limited content mastery in our children's classrooms, the cost is infinitesimal.
How can we continue to fund and grow this program? We must look at how we allocate the money currently available, how we allocate Fulltime Teacher Equivalency, the creative use of paraprofessionals, and explore combining BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assistance Program) and PAR (Peer Assistance Review) resources to support training new teachers. …