By Michigan Fellow Mike Lerchenfeldt
What is TeachStrong?
The TeachStrong campaign is a movement to change the national education policy conversation and make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the most pressing and significant education policy priority for our nation. The coalition is undertaking this effort now because, in recent years, the national conversation around education policy has become polarized, many leaders have shied away from meaningful discussion about the teaching profession, and millennials have increasingly turned away from the teaching profession in large numbers.
I was inspired to become a Michigan TeachStrong ambassador by my family, friends, colleagues, students, fellows, teachers, and mentors, and since joining the campaign have been continually impressed by how TeachStrong is build momentum at the local and national level.
TeachStrong's key principles, and what they mean to me:
Principle 1: Identify and recruit more teacher candidates with great potential to succeed, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce.
My own experience being recruited into the profession included application and interview processes at my school district. This experience allowed me to share my story, skills, and goals. My principals recruited me, and our school district continues to use an online application system to find teacher candidates.
It is evident that diversity in the teacher workforce is critical for student success in our school. I am the only 7th grade male, core subject-area teacher at our school. This is a particularly powerful lesson that I witness on a daily basis, because numerous students have mentioned that I am their first male, core subject-area teacher. Only 24 percent of public school teachers are male.
I have encountered cultural issues with my students, and I have been able to connect with students through culturally relevant pedagogy. I enable each student to relate course content to his or her cultural context.
Principle 2: Reimagine teacher preparation to make it more rooted in classroom practice and professional knowledge base, with universal high standards for all candidates.
My teacher preparation experience was at Oakland University. I participated in a traditional program that provided clinical training. I did feel prepared to enter the classroom on my first day because of a high quality, yearlong student teaching internship. However, there are few states that set specific requirements on the quality of that clinical training.
Principle 3: Raise the bar for licensure so it is a meaningful measure of readiness to teach.
The licensure process in our state involves earning a bachelors degree with enough credits to be highly qualified to teach certain content areas. While completing my bachelor’s degree, I had to complete a student teaching internship experience and the Michigan Tests for Teacher Certification (MTTC). I consider my state's licensure exam a meaningful measure of readiness to teach because it required a yearlong student teaching internship experience. It was rigorous. The licensure exam aligned with my program's coursework. However, the correlation between passing a licensure exam and student achievement is weak.
Principle 4: Increase compensation in order to attract and reward teachers as professionals.
My experiences with my school district’s compensation structure have been positive. Years of service and education level determine teacher salary at my school. I feel that I am adequately compensated. I am compensated for some of the additional hours I work or responsibilities that I assume.
Principle 5: Provide support for new teachers through induction or residency programs.
I participated in a New Teacher Academy. This affected my first years of teaching by providing me with resources, support, and mentoring. To improve this program, novice teachers need time to observe experienced teachers in their classrooms.
Principle 6: Ensure tenure is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.
Our state awards tenure after five years of effective teaching. I believe it is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment. Our state's tenure system has resulted in a more involved performance evaluation process. Teachers have to prove that they are having a positive effect on their students. The tenure process has been excellent for me because I prove every year that I am having a positive effect on my students.
Principle 7: Provide significantly more time, tools, and support for teachers to succeed, including through planning, collaboration, and development.
Our school schedule consists of a daily prep hour. This supports teachers by giving them the time they need to plan and collaborate. However, for 7th grade science, we are not given any time to plan and collaborate with colleagues unless it is outside of the school day because we have different prep hours. I am usually strapped for time during the school day. I would benefit from additional time to collaborate with colleagues in an organized and structured environment. Observing other teachers would advance my practice if I had more time. My dream schedule or ideal school day would maximize my ability to deliver great instruction by emphasizing time for individual planning, collaboration with colleagues, and observing other teachers.
Principle 8: Design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs, and to foster feedback and improvement.
A standard professional development session given by our school district involves listening to a speaker. I participate in professional development about every two months. Listening to a speaker for the majority of a day is not helpful to my growth as a teacher. Consultants lead the sessions. The content is usually not connected to my classroom.
My ideal professional development would allow me time to observe other teachers in their classrooms in order to get ideas about what works and what does not work. The best professional development session I have received was when I observed an excellent teacher giving instruction. This gave me the opportunity to give and receive feedback. It was effective and worthwhile because the content was connected to my classroom.
Principle 9: Create career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally.
Our school district provides opportunities for teacher leaders. This has benefited me as a professional in terms of my status and growth. As a technology leader, I am trained in strategies that I use in my classroom and share what I learn with colleagues.
So who wants to be a TeachStrong advocate?
As an advocate you will promote TeachStrong in at least one way every Tuesday. Examples of how to participate include posting on social media using #TeachStrong, contributing to a blog or writing an op-ed, and sharing the TeachStrong principles with a colleague or local leader. You can also support the campaign by attending other activities and events led by TeachStrong ambassadors and growing the reach of the campaign.
Visit the website to learn more!