Hold onto your hats, because I am about to mostly agree with something on the TNTP website. And not even in my usual snotty sophomoric sarcastic "agree" way. It's not that I love them any more than I ever did-- TNTP is one of my least loved reformster group because of their relentless devotion to tearing down job protections, pay and professionalism for teachers. No group has more relentlessly argued for all the different ways in which teaching can be turned into something less than a profession.
But I'm a big believer that you have to judge ideas on merit and not on the source. So I'm now going to tell you all about something I think Dan Weisberg at TNTP got right. I'll put my caveat at the end.
In his recent blog post "Not a One-Size-Fits-All Profession" Weisberg argues for a new model of how teaching could work. And he's not wrong.
Teaching has remained a profession in which people are expected to hit the ground running on Day One. As Weisberg correctly argues, doctors and lawyers don't do anything remotely like this. Both start at the bottom of a career ladder and work their way up to full responsibility for the whole job.
I have often imagined a school that works essentially like a teaching hospital (a real one, not one like the hospital in Grey's Anatomy) where practitioners gradually take on increased responsibility under the tutelage and guidance of masters in the craft. It would help teachers grow and develop into great teachers.
Great teachers do much more than engage students during class time. They
are great lesson planners; they are experts at identifying challenging
content for their students; they analyze data to understand student
progress; they know how to design assessments that reveal whether
students have mastered material; they are adept at keeping families
informed and invested in their children’s education; they use lessons
from developmental psychology to establish personal connections with
even the most challenging students; and on and on.
Right now we expect teachers to do from the beginning with nothing under their belt but student teaching (Weisberg implies that only some teachers have that experience. I've heard this hint from so many reformsters that I'm starting to wonder-- are there programs other than TFA that don't include student teaching??). Weisberg proposes another way.
Imagine a school where the teacher’s
responsibility is exactly what we think it should be: ensuring that all
students get what they need to succeed. And instead of having to do
everything themselves to make that happen, like other professionals,
they manage a team: a lesson planner, a curator of content, a parent
engagement specialist, a data analyst, an assessment designer, a special
ed compliance specialist, maybe even a homework grader. Such a
structure would serve multiple purposes. First, it would allow teachers
to focus on their core responsibility. Teachers could spend the bulk of
their time formulating and executing instructional strategies designed
to meet individual student needs, while delegating tasks like completing
paperwork or planning individual lessons that may not be as critical.
There are several things I like about this. The chance to develop teachers in the field. The support for classroom teachers (do you know what I could do with an extra fifteen-twenty minutes of not fetching copies every day). The enhanced team environment. And Weisberg is probably correct about enhanced status-- what do other respected professionals have that teachers do not? Answer: people who work for them.
Now, I do have some problems with Weisberg's model. He likes the idea that this would open up the career path to folks from all sorts of backgrounds; I worry that this would be another way to de-professionalize the profession. In fact, I worry that the entire model could be used not as a career ladder with the equivalent of physician interns and residents, but rather a single professional working through a staff of cheaper, more-easily-replaced para-professionals. Without a proper investment in money and support, that can easily degenerate into that doctor's office where you used to see four physicians, but now it's one physician who rarely sees you, supported by two physicians assistants (who are different people each time you go because they keep getting overworked and burned out).
Weisberg's response to the cost issue is also off the mark.
The threshold questions are about cost. Won’t hiring all these
specialists break the bank? Not necessarily. These are entry-level
positions with entry-level pay, not designed as long-term positions.
That assumes that entry-level pay would be lower than beginning teacher pay, but that pay is pretty entry-levelly already. In fact, one of the huge problems of the intern-resident-etc career ladders for doctors is that by the time they've climbed it, they're hugely in debt. The lower rungs of the ladder don't pay enough to live on. That's a huge problem.
And here comes the teacher-busting TNTP that I know and loathe:
And with such a support team and smart use of technology, individual
teachers should be able to work with many more students than they can
right now without any help.
Do I think Weisberg's basic model could be a good way to redesign the profession? I actually do-- if, and only if, the money was put into it to do it right. Using it to cut costs, or setting it up and subjecting it to Death by a Thousand Budget Cuts, would get us a system worse than the one we have. So I doubt that it could ever really happen. Put another way, if we right now had the dedication of money, resources and support that would be needed to make Weisberg's ladder system actually work, we could work wonders with the system currently in place.
Neither Weisberg nor I are the first to think of this model, and yet it has never been implemented in a big way in any school system, and that tells us something. But it's still an interesting idea.