Copyright © 2004 by Sarah Mackenzie, Betty Morrell, and Stephenie Cook. All rights reserved.
This report would not have been possible without the efforts of many organizations and people.
To the Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the Maine Education Leadership Consortium, thank you. Your commitment to this work over the last ten years and your foresight in insisting on its continuation provided us with the support we needed to do the research and produce this report.
To our funders, the Maine Education Association, Maine Principals Association, Maine Association of School Boards, Maine School Superintendents Association, The Regional Education Alliance at Brown University, and the University of Maine, thank you. Without your support in these tough economic times, this work would not have come to fruition.
To all who served as informal advisors, particularly David Silvernail and Richard Barnes of the University of Southern Maine, thank you. Your guidance at the outset was invaluable.
To Walter Harris and Lori Smith at the Center for Research and Evaluation at the University of Maine, thank you. Your work gave meaning to qualitative data and enlightened our findings.
To my co-authors, Sally Mackenzie of the University of Maine and Betty Morrell, Principal of the Readfield Elementary School in Readfield, Maine, thank you. Your interest in this work and the many hours you devoted to it provides the report with insight and depth that would not otherwise have been possible.
To those who helped with transcription, Angela Birmingham of the Maine State Department of Education, Rhonda Bryant of the University of Maine at Farmington, Rhonda Casey of the Maine State Board of Education, Grace Rivera of The Regional Education Alliance, and Sherry Trafton of Maine School Management Association, thank you. You went above and beyond and contributed to the timely completion of this work.
To our primary transcriber and devoted administrative assistant, Pamela St. Peter, thank you, thank you, thank you. From locating 60 participants in our past Select Seminars to spending six months transcribing 50 interviews, your support made this project possible. Your dedication, accuracy, and enthusiasm sustained us through the project. It seems so inadequate to say, but so true — we could not have done it without you.
To the 58 outstanding new teachers of 1993 and 1997 who in 2003-04 shared so freely and genuinely their experiences of the past six to ten years, thank you. You welcomed us into your schools, homes, and offices and provided us with a perspective on teaching and learning that we had no other way of seeing. Your devotion to your students and schools is without parallel. I wish you well in your bright futures.
LIST OF TABLES
PARTICIPANT SELECTION AND THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
DESCRIPTION OF PARTICIPANTS IN THE STUDY
WHAT TEACHERS SAID ABOUT PREPARATION AND INDUCTION
Mentoring and Induction Programs
Administrative Support for New Teachers
WHAT TEACHERS SAID SUPPORTS AND SUSTAINS THEM–AND WHAT DOES NOT
Supervision and Evaluation
Parents and Community
WHAT TEACHERS SAID HAD A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THEIR DESIRE TO REMAIN IN EDUCATION
Salary and Resources
Accountability: Maine Learning Results, Local Assessments, and No Child Left Behind
IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Preparing, Inducting, and Mentoring Teachers
Supporting and Sustaining Teachers
Addressing State and Federal Mandates
APPENDIX A: INTERVIEW PROTOCOL
APPENDIX B: ABOUT THE MAINE EDUCATION LEADERSHIP CONSORTIUM
APPENDIX C: ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Cover photo by Cal Mackenzie.
Table 1. DEGREE ATTAINMENT BEYOND THE BACHELOR’S LEVEL OF ALL INTERVIEWEES
Table 2. TEACHING LEVEL FOR ALL INTERVIEWEES
Table 3. PRESENT JOB STATUS OF ALL INTERVIEWEES
Table 4. AGE, TOTAL YEARS TEACHING, AND YEARS AT SCHOOL FOR TEACHERS
Table 5. DEGREE ATTAINMENT BEYOND THE BACHELOR’S LEVEL OF TEACHERS
Table 6. TEACHERS’ RELOCATION DURING THEIR CAREERS
Table 7. TEACHERS’ ASSIGNMENT BY LEVEL OF SCHOOL
Table 8. LEVEL OF FREE AND REDUCED LUNCH AT TEACHERS’ SCHOOLS
Table 9. TEACHERS’ PLANS TO REMAIN UNTIL THEY RETIRE BY AGE
Table 10. TEACHERS’ PLANS TO REMAIN UNTIL THEY RETIRE BY GENDER
Table 11. TEACHERS INTERESTED IN ADMINISTRATION
Table 12. TEACHERS’ COMMENTS ABOUT TIME BY TYPE OF SCHOOL
A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT TEACHING IN MAINE
The Maine Education Leadership Consortium (MELC) has worked for ten years to understand more fully the factors that influence teachers to remain in education. In 1993, the Consortium convened a select seminar of 32 outstanding new teachers to learn about their experiences in their first two years of teaching. Charlotte Herbold wrote a report entitled “A View from the Inside: New Teachers on Teaching in Maine.” In 1997, the Consortium held another seminar involving 34 additional outstanding new teachers and produced a similar report.
Believing that many of the issues and concerns raised in the two reports had not been addressed and were continuing to affect teacher recruitment and retention in Maine, the MELC Board of Directors decided to investigate what had happened to the 66 teachers who participated in the 1993 and 1997 seminars. Board members expected that many of these teachers would have left education. By September 2003, 60 of the 66 participants were located. Forty-six or 70% were still working in K-12 public education in Maine, many in the same districts where they had been working when they came to the seminars. Another five participants were working in post-secondary or private education.
MELC staff interviewed 58 of the 60 people located. Two seminar participants did not respond to requests for interviews. Staff members asked those no longer working in K-12 education to comment on their teaching experience and reasons for leaving. They asked those who remained to reflect once again on their early teaching experiences and on factors that have kept them working in Maine public schools.
The teachers described how working with children and watching them grow and learn gave them the most joy, satisfaction, and commitment to the profession. Most respondents said they felt reasonably equipped by their preparation programs to launch a teaching career; however, they mentioned several areas that they felt needed more attention in teacher preparation programs or during the mentoring process. Although many of the schools where these teachers work had formal mentoring programs, the majority of the teachers interviewed reported that either they did not participate in a program or that these programs were ineffective. Those new teachers who did have an effective mentor reported the important role that person or team played in helping them acclimate to the new school environment and their new role.
The teachers indicated that deep and ongoing professional development with support was critical to their professional learning. Other factors made professional development effective: they had choice about what they were learning; it was hands-on and immediately useful to their practice; and they experienced the same kind of learning situation they were trying to create for their students.
Most were very clear about the supervision and evaluation process for beginning teachers, describing the number of observations and the timeline for them. No matter what the system was for continuing contract teachers, they described the process as inconsistent or minimal, depending on the principal. Most respondents described evaluation as being based on observations by an administrator and that these evaluations were perfunctory, but necessary, aspects of the administrator-teacher relationship. The teachers were eager to try new ways of sharing the responsibility to make the system more meaningful and fruitful for themselves and their colleagues.
Almost all of the interviewees said that they were involved in committee work at their schools. Respondents described a variety of ways that committee work had a positive impact on their teaching. Committee work detracted from teaching if it was not a choice, had no clear goals, felt as if it were top down from district or state levels, was not relevant or meaningful to classroom needs, or had no administrative follow-through.
A majority of the respondents described strong or fairly strong collegial connections with other teachers. Some people yearned for more from these connections, such as more feedback and opportunities to observe and share effective practices. Many teachers who had team or supportive collegial experiences were eager for more. They advocated for more structures that allowed time for collegial interactions. The interviewees displayed an increased awareness and acceptance of the teacher role as more than just classroom teaching. They understand collaborative leadership as teamwork which uses individual strengths and interests to advantage in order to accomplish shared goals. These teachers described a common vision of teacher leadership. They see themselves as part of a team sharing the leadership of the group. Defining the direction of the school and working to fulfill the goals were undercurrents in their remarks.
The respondents saw the role of parents in their child’s education, and thus in their own work lives, as invaluable. They described the role as a partnership, a joint effort, and teamwork. Teachers understand how much they need to involve parents, to communicate effectively with them, and to help them support their child’s learning at home. The teachers seemed disheartened, though, by their perception that society, generally, and even their own communities, specifically, do not respect their work, do not seem to care, and do not even believe in schools.
The teachers expressed strong feelings about the importance of principals. Most of the respondents mentioned principals as being critical to their support and development as professionals at the very beginning and throughout their careers. Most of the interviewees said they had no desire to become administrators mostly because they feel as if they would be giving up daily contact with children.
The teachers expressed positive feelings about supportive people and processes in their schools, but some larger “outside the school” issues brought almost universal negative comments. Seventy percent of the respondents mentioned time as a factor in their work lives. Several described the number of hours they spend preparing for the classroom as a major issue in their personal lives. Some respondents urged schools to be more careful that new teachers do not become overburdened and burnout and leave the profession.
Many teachers commented on the inadequacy of the salary in comparison to other professions and to its importance in society generally. Two-thirds of the respondents mentioned how important increased salaries were to ensuring that enough people join the profession or to guaranteeing higher performance and longevity and preventing burnout of experienced teachers. Most commented on the inequities of the structures for supporting schools.
In these interviews, educators were not asked to comment directly on Maine Learning Results, local assessments, or No Child Left Behind. However, almost all of them raised the subjects when asked their views on teaching, committee work, and recommending the profession to others. Elementary teachers have more reservations about the means and measures of accountability than do their peers at the middle and high school levels. They felt the demands of accountability added to an increasingly undoable workload and reduced creativity in their teaching.
Middle and high school educators were much more likely to mention that they saw professional development benefits in the work of aligning curriculum to the Maine Learning Results and developing local assessments. This work gave them a much clearer picture of what students should learn and how to measure that learning. Middle and high school educators questioned whether the state and federal governments knew what they wanted from their accountability policies.
Many teaching jobs will open up in Maine over the next decade as the state’s relatively large corps of veteran educators nears retirement age…Besides retirement, Robert Cobb, dean of the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development, and Keith Harvie, spokesman for the Maine Education Association, said teachers are leaving the profession early due to burn out, increased difficulties with students and the higher demand that federal and state mandates place on their time. Cobb said that with salaries of teachers and staff making up a large majority of districts’ expenses‚ budget cuts in personnel often are the only way to lower costs.
Harvie pointed to two other areas: the proposed tax cap and new federal education requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. New teachers “are walking into one of the most turbulent times in Maine public education,” he said.
(Ricks & Peters, Maine Sunday Telegram, March 28, 2004)
A major factor in providing quality education to all students is the competency of the classroom teacher. Therefore, anyone interested in reforming and improving schools needs to examine closely the preparation, induction, and working conditions of teachers.
Recognizing the importance of quality teaching, the Maine Education Leadership Consortium (MELC) has spent over ten years examining the issues faced by new educators as they begin their practice in Maine public schools.
In 1993, MELC brought together 32 beginning teachers who had been identified as outstanding by administrators in their districts for a four-day select seminar. The purpose of the seminar was to allow MELC members to learn more about the experiences of beginning teachers and how they view schools “through eyes not yet clouded by regularity and custom” (Herbold, 1993). MELC staff compiled the data and prepared a 26-page report featuring recommendations for improving the induction of beginning educators.
Response to the first seminar and report was so positive from both MELC members and the participants that a second select seminar was organized in 1997. At that time, those who had attended the 1993 seminar were invited to return. Twelve chose to do so. In addition, another 34 outstanding new teachers joined the group. Once again, seminar participants explored their experiences as beginning teachers with regard to preparation, induction, and retention. The 1993 seminar participants were asked to reflect on how their work during the subsequent four years contributed to their growth as teachers.
MELC produced another report (Storms, Eagan, Millen, Spruce & Walls, 1998). This report together with the 1993 report served to influence Maine’s work with the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) and the development of the Advancing the Agenda for Results-Based Educator Certification (AARBEC) mentoring program.
In the spring of 2003, MELC Board of Directors decided to follow up on the work of the 1993 and 1997 select seminars. They were well aware that teacher retention remains an important issue for ensuring quality education for all students. One-third of our new teachers leave during their first three years and close to half leave after five years (Wise, 2002; Johnson, 2004).) The board wanted to discover what had happened to the sixty-six outstanding new teachers from 1993 and 1997. Specifically, the board wanted to know how many of the select seminar participants were still teaching in Maine and how many, if any, had moved to administrative positions. Board members were pessimistic that these teachers were still in the profession because both of the previous reports indicated that the seminar participants had predicted they would be unable to remain in teaching because of stress and burnout. MELC members predicted that many of the 1993 and 1997 beginning teachers would have left teaching and anticipated that the purpose of the interviews would be to surface reasons for their departure.
During the summer of 2003, the MELC staff attempted to locate the seminars’ participants. To their surprise, most of the 66 educators are still teaching. They were able to locate 60 of the 66 seminar participants. Of the 60, 46 remain working in K-12 public education in Maine, a retention rate of 70%. These 46 have been teaching for a minimum of eight years. Twenty-six of the 46 continue to teach in the same district in which they taught when they attended their first seminars. Another 13 have changed districts but have moved fewer than 50 miles from the districts in which they began their practice.
Only seven teachers moved more than 50 miles from the place they began teaching to accept a new position. Of the 14 people no longer teaching, five are still working in education. Three are working at the post-secondary level. Two are working in private education. Four others are women who chose to stay home after having children. Three of them plan to return to teaching. Of the remaining five, three have changed careers; one has returned to college to become a professor; and one has left teaching to pursue personal interests.
With so few seminar participants leaving education, the purpose of the project evolved. The staff planned to interview those who had left about their reasons for doing so. But for those who were still teaching, the goal was to explore the reasons why they had stayed in education.
MELC staff members conducted personal, taped interviews to discover what factors influenced the seminar participants to stay or leave the profession; whether their attitudes had changed toward preparation and induction; what their future plans were; and for those continuing in education, how committed they were to the profession. Interviewers also asked about their perceptions of the needs of today’s beginning teachers and whether they believe that preparation and induction have improved since they began their practice. The interviewers probed with follow-up questions to uncover attitudes toward such aspects of the teachers’ professional lives as the increased emphasis on accountability and assessment of both teachers and students; their need for ongoing support in the classroom including, but not limited to, professional development; the influence and support of administrators and colleagues; and of course, those ideas and perspectives that may not have been anticipated by the interviewers.
From this data, the MELC Board wanted to learn what is sustaining teachers in their jobs and what teacher preparation institutions and school districts in Maine can do to better support beginning teachers. The board examined how the perspective of eight to fourteen years of practice has influenced these teachers’ opinions of the profession and how they view their future work in education. They explored what influenced the seminar participants to stay in the profession and how that experience can be used to support and retain teachers. They sought to understand how they view administrative work and whether they are planning to prepare for administrative positions. Lastly, the MELC Board wanted to gather some snapshots of the effects that recent educational reform initiatives are having on teachers’ work lives and career plans.
This report contains the results of these interviews. The writers pored over more than 500 pages of transcripts reflecting the lives and working conditions of these now veteran Maine teachers. The writers and MELC have gleaned a wealth of information about the condition of the education profession in Maine in 2003 and 2004. They believe that the information contained in this report will give rise to further research and writing. MELC hopes that all who are interested in improving teaching and learning will read this document to gain insight into the changes that need to be made to enhance the preparation and working conditions of educators.
Both the 1993 and 1997 groups of outstanding beginning teachers were selected by nomination from their district superintendents. The guidelines stated that they have two or fewer years experience in the classroom. However, the interviews revealed that some superintendents interpreted the two-year provision as two years or fewer within the district so that some participants had as many as four years’ classroom experience when they attended the select seminar. In addition, the seminar planners sought a diverse geographic, grade level, and content range. Some outstanding new educators may not have participated because they duplicated a geographic area, grade level, or content area of someone already selected.
Fifty-eight personal interviews were conducted primarily in the fall of 2003. Two of the 60 seminar participants, one a Maine public school teacher and the other a career changer did not respond to our request for interviews. Almost all of the 46 people still working in education were interviewed at their schools, often in their classrooms. One was interviewed at home as she was on family leave of absence. Some of the participants who had left K-12 public education were interviewed in person. Some were interviewed by telephone because of distance or bad weather.
The interview prompts varied. (Appendix A contains the interview protocol.) People still working in public education responded to one set of twelve questions. Those who had left K- 12 public education responded to another set. All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed. No one other than the researchers and the transcriber has heard or read these interviews; this commitment to confidentiality was made to the interviewees.
Just as they had in 1993 and 1997, the participants spanned all grade levels and subject areas, including the specialty areas of health, art, and physical education. They remained geographically diverse, ranging from Aroostook County to York County. Only a few interviewees work in urban districts primarily because Maine has so few major cities. Most teach in suburban or small rural districts. Among the 14 who had left K-12 public education, only one worked in an urban area.
A comparison of the percentages of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch in the interviewees’ schools showed that their districts were economically diverse as well. Many teachers work in buildings where fewer than 35% of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch subsidies, while others worked in places where over one half to two thirds of the students qualified.
This report is a description and analysis of the 58 interviews. It begins with a section devoted to the interviewees’ reflections on their background, preparation, and induction. Then the report details the factors that may have contributed to the longevity in the profession of this particular group of teachers. The report also includes these educators’ comments on the challenges they see for new teachers entering the profession today. Next is an analysis of the factors that support and sustain these educators in their daily work, specifically the impact of professional development, supervision and evaluation, committee work, collegiality, teacher leadership, and parent and community support.
The next section examines how the Maine Learning Results, local assessment systems, and the No Child Left Behind Act have changed classroom practice and working conditions of the teachers. The protocol contained no direct questions about these accountability practices, but almost every teacher interviewed mentioned one or more of these initiatives as a significant influence on his or her professional life. The final section contains suggestions for specific policies that will enhance the preparation, induction, and retention of K-12 public educators.
Of the 58 interviewees, 28 people attended the 1993 seminar; 30 interviewees attended the 1997 seminar. Three-fourths of the group are female and one-fourth are male. The average age is 38. Twenty-five participants (43.1%) are younger than 35; twenty-two (37.9%) are between the ages of 35 and 45; and eleven (19.0%) are older than 45. Twenty individuals (34.5%) had a prior career before becoming a teacher and 38 (65.5%) did not. Of this group, 41.4 % have a Bachelor’s degree, and 44.8 % have advanced degrees. Eight people attended the ETEP program at USM as part of their teacher preparation. Table 1 shows the distribution of interviewees who have done graduate work beyond the Bachelor’s.
Table 1: Degree Attainment Beyond the Bachelor's Level of All Interviewees
Table 2 indicates the distribution of participants in the seminar by the type of school in which they teach.
Table 2: Teaching Level for All Interviewees
Of the interviewees no longer teaching, six are still working in education. Four others are women who chose to stay home after having children. Three of them plan to return to teaching. Four have changed careers. Table 3 shows the present job status of the participants in the study.
Table 3: Present Job Status of All Interviewees
|Still working in Maine K-12 public education||45||77.6||77.6|
|Out of teaching, not returning||4||6.9||84.5|
|Out of teaching, planning to return||3||5.2||89.7|
|Working in education, not Maine K-12 public||6||10.3||100.0|
From the interviews of people not remaining in teaching, we got a strong sense of their commitment to education. Several people volunteer in local schools whether they have children there or not. Only one interviewee indicated that teaching was not a positive experience. The others described how they benefited from having been in the classroom.
All respondents provided useful information, but we were most interested in seminar participants who continued teaching in Maine. Forty-five of the study participants remain in public schools in Maine.
The distribution by gender and age of the forty-five teachers is essentially the same as the larger group of interviewees: Twenty-five percent are male and seventy-five percent are female. The average age is 37 in a range of 30 to 54 years. The average number of years they have been teaching is ten in a range of seven to 15 years. They have been at their present schools for an average of 7.1 years. Table 4 describes the teachers in terms of age, years of teaching, and years at their current position. Sixteen individuals (35.6%) had a prior career before becoming a teacher and 29 (64.4%) did not.
Table 4: Age, Total Years Teaching, and Years at School for Teachers
|Age at Interview||Total Years Teaching||Years at Current School|
|Mode(s)||33 & 35||8||8|
Two-thirds of the teachers received their Bachelor’s degree from a public institution in Maine. Ten teachers graduated from private colleges, the others from out of state public colleges or universities. Seven of those presently teaching received certification through the ETEP program. Table 5 shows the teachers’ attainment of advanced degrees.
Table 5: Degree Attainment Beyond the Bachelor's Level of Teachers
A majority of the teachers has remained in the same school at which they began their careers although several may have changed grade levels. Fourteen changed schools within 50 miles of where they began teaching, and six moved more than 50 miles to take another position. Table 6 shows the mobility of the teachers.
Table 6: Teachers' Relocation During Their Careers
|Change < 50 miles||14||31.1||86.7|
|Change > 50 miles||6||13.3||100.0|
Table 7 shows the distribution of the teachers by level of the school at which they presently teach.
Table 7: Teachers' Assignment by Level of School
The socio-economic level of the school using meal subsidy levels provides more information about the schools in which these educators work (Table 8).
Table 8: Level of Free and Reduced Lunch at Teachers' Schools
Twenty-nine teachers said they planned to remain in education until retirement, three said they would not, and 13 are undecided. The next two tables show data about who are certain to remain, who will probably leave, and who are in the undecided category.
Table 9: Teachers' Plans to Remain Until They Retire By Age
|Plan to Stay Until Retirement|
|Age Categories <35 years||10||55.6%||1||5.6%||7||38.9%|
Table 10: Teachers' Plans to Remain Until They Retire By Gender
|Gender||Plan to Stay Until Retirement|
Analysis of the Interviews
The analysis and interpretation of data in the rest of the report are primarily based on teachers’ responses to the interview questions. Occasionally the comments of people no longer teaching are included in the text when they had a particularly useful or revealing insight into the topic under discussion. We documented analyses of the transcripts of the teachers’ interviews by topic. We categorized the responses to the broad headings and cross-referenced related references found elsewhere in the transcripts. Then we created categories of the themes we saw in the responses to the topics and tabulated the number of responses as well as analyzed them for distinctive patterns. We use both quantitative and qualitative descriptors to give a holistic picture of the teachers’ comments and attitudes to the various topics about which they were asked, and we use the teacher’s words in many places to add flavor to the syntheses of their views.
The best thing for young teachers is to find some staff members that they can have a rapport with that’s informal – somebody they can go to, they can trust to go to, to ask questions. I know that’s supposed to be the role of the support team, but it doesn’t always work that way. That becomes something formal and extra. You just have to have people that you dare to ask questions of. (31)
[Numbers following quotations or paraphrased remarks refer to a randomly assigned interview number.]
Learning to teach is difficult work that does not end when one has graduated from a teacher preparation program. Each year we lose some of our best new teachers because of the lack of support received once they are on-the-job (Johnson & Kardos, 2002). As previously indicated, teachers participating in the 1993 or 1997 Select Seminar on Teaching had a retention rate of 70%.
Participants were asked to describe the induction and mentoring process they experienced. In addition, they commented on how induction and mentoring may have changed since they began teaching. Responses to the question, “How did you learn to be an effective educator?” were compiled to probe further their early experiences as teachers.
Mentoring and Induction Programs
Although many schools in Maine where these teachers work had formal mentoring programs, the majority of the teachers interviewed reported that either they did not participate in a program or that it was not effective. Those new teachers who did have an effective mentor reported the important role this person or team played in helping them become acclimated to their new environment and their new careers.
Forty-five percent of these teachers indicated that they had a mentor assigned, but there seemed to be no consistency in what the mentors did or how they interacted with them. For example, one teacher explained it this way: “I guess I was pretty lucky because the school that I went to had a pretty good mentoring program. I had three teachers who were in my classroom, and they did three observations of me. I met with them once every two weeks to go over things” (47). Teachers involved in an effective mentoring program said they felt very supported. They described the comfort level they felt with their mentors or team of mentors. They felt it was safe to ask questions. They met often and regularly to discuss upcoming expectations.
The majority of new teachers were not as fortunate as the ones described above. In many cases, the new teacher was assigned a mentor to help develop the new teacher action plan only. “On paper you have the recertification committee and your team, but that was just doing what they had to do to get you recertified. It was nothing about bringing you along” (2). Some respondents indicated the problem arose because the mentor did not teach the same level or subject matter as they did. Several teachers echoed this attitude. One said, “I think it’s really important to have a mentor teacher at your grade level or very close to your grade level” (28).
It was not unusual for a new teacher to begin the year without the support of a mentor because the mentor was assigned some time after the beginning of the school year. “It wasn’t until a week or two into school when I had that support team put together and I had the time to meet with them that I felt like I was okay and I was going to make it” (57). One teacher was not assigned a mentor until the second year of teaching. Twenty percent reported that they had no mentoring or induction at all when they first began teaching.
Thirty percent of the interviewees talked about the informal structures that provided the support they needed. These informal supports might involve support from the person next door or across the hallway. The support might come from the group of teachers who were teaching the same grade or subject matter. Often, these informal structures provided better support than the formal ones. These comments describe many of the teachers’ experiences:
My team of first grade teachers was a huge support. They would share anything and showed me the curriculum that they had used and that they had made changes to. (48)
I had a mentor, but he and I didn’t really click. I think it was a more informal network of teachers who took an interest in what I was doing, and whom I had proximity to. Official mentoring programs don’t always work as planned. (25)
However, one must be careful about leaving mentoring/induction to an informal process. An interviewee said, “Induction often happens informally, but that’s not always a good thing to let happen. That can be sitting around the teachers’ room complaining about kids, too. You’re inducted into a negative culture a lot of times, depending on the school” (2).
Not everyone had even the support of an informal mentor or team, however. Twenty percent reported that they had no mentoring or induction at all when they first began teaching. A typical response from a teacher with no support was, “I had no special help. It was do or die. It was crazy” (40). Even sadder is the teacher who said, “I was there for a year and a half before I knew there was a supply closet that I could get things from. I just happened by chance to hear somebody say, ‘I’m going to go check the supply closet and see if we have…’” (48). One person felt that even though a support team had been assigned, “She always felt like they were doing it because they had to. The meetings, rarely anyone attended. There were four people on my team, and it was usually just one person there. And it was just kind of like, ‘Okay, when can I evaluate you. I’ll try to get you in by the end of the year.’ I didn’t get anything out of it” (39).
These teachers had a great deal to say about what new teachers need for support when they begin teaching because of the isolation many feel in the classroom situation. New teachers need contact with other teachers in order to be successful. One respondent said, “I think you’ve got to be meeting with them weekly. You’ve got to be right in their classroom and you’ve got to be doing a lot of that” (6). Another said, “I look at some new teachers that are coming here who are 21, 22, and the feelings of isolation they must have because prior to the last couple of years, we didn’t really have an induction class. How do you carry them along? Because that’s a hard road the first couple of years” (4). Teachers advocated for support teams and a team approach to mentoring. These teams would be there so that new teachers are “being observed, so they have someone they can go to, to ask questions about building dynamics, rules, regulations, different school events that come up” (47).
The teachers recommended that new teachers become involved in team teaching with an experienced teacher or with teachers from similar disciplines. At the very least, they need to meet frequently and regularly with colleagues, especially others at the same grade level or teaching the same discipline. One teacher suggested a team approach to mentoring so that the new teacher is “working closely with another teacher who is on the same grade level, maybe team teaching some of the lessons, being able to really watch another teacher in action can be a huge help” (26). Another said, “I’m team teaching with two other teachers daily, every day. I constantly have feedback. I can’t imagine being a single grade teacher in my own classroom in an isolated place and not being able to share or plan together” (7).
Several interviewees recommended a yearlong induction/mentoring program. One said, “I think that collaboration time is like the most important thing – collaborating with experienced, strong teachers” (22). During another interview, the respondent described an ideal new teacher experience:
Some of it you have to learn through experience, but in a yearlong induction program maybe you meet once a month for two hours after school with a cohort of new people and the administrator for your building and go through some of these issues. Even if it was informal conversation, it would bring out some of the issues that the people are facing. There’s no doubt about it that we need to do a better job. It’s not about teaching all these courses to pound knowledge in their head. It’s just about knowing that there’s someone there who can help you with these issues versus the old one-room schoolhouse — close my door, do my thing and hope nobody finds out when things go wrong. And realize the people can help you. They’ve been through all these situations before. (2)
Whatever structure is put in place, these teachers felt that mentoring was important for a new teacher. Everyone needs to have at least one other person to turn to during these first years. One advocated a “cocoon experience where they [new teachers] have mentors all around and watching them – not just for a year, but for 5 years. I really think we’ve got to watch these people and make sure they’re okay” (6).
While these teachers longed for good mentoring, few mentioned being mentors themselves whether on a formal or informal basis. We discovered that this carries over to their sense of responsibility for a collegial environment. A climate or culture of support is something teachers did not indicate they felt responsibility for creating or nurturing. More research is needed in this area to probe attitudes of teachers who do not participate in experiences they know are important and useful for their colleagues.
Administrative Support for New Teachers
Teachers are not the only ones involved in mentoring and inducting new teachers. In some cases an administrator met often with a new teacher. The school administrator, in most cases the principal, provided support for some of these teachers as they learned to navigate their way during the first years of teaching. Sometimes the support was provided through an informal process, at other times through more formal structures. One respondent described the process in his school. “New teachers, even those new to the system, meet with the principal or assistant principal to discuss policy and management styles for the first two years” (15). Many study participants felt these types of sessions were valuable, whereas, some participants felt they were of little value to a new teacher and took up valuable time. One felt that these sessions were of questionable value other than to provide a time to “gripe” (5).
The respondents implied that school administrators have a powerful impact on the new teacher when they create a good experience for him or her. It is important for the principal to schedule time with the new teachers, to create a culture of support, and to build a sense of community for the entire school. The following describes a situation where this did occur: “[My principal] walked me through the steps of teaching in the gentlest, most supportive way of any boss that I’ve ever had. He let me see how to use my strengths, like my humor and my ability to talk to the kids as a teaching tool. He showed me how to balance my personal life with my professional life…And he created this sense of family here at this school that we still have…He had so much confidence in me that I could do it. I think having a strong principal does trickle down into the rest of the school” (32).
Not only do new teacher experiences in the school environment need to change, but student teaching experiences need to change to develop a thoughtful, self-directed professional who can rise to the many challenges posed by today’s schools. Many of the teachers interviewed spoke highly of their student teaching experiences. They felt that they learned much from the teaching techniques modeled for them. The time provided an opportunity for them to try out many of the things they had learned during their methods classes.
Assisting students in teacher preparation programs to reflect critically on their own work, both in and out of the classroom, provides one avenue to becoming a thoughtful and self-directed learner. Many of the interviewed teachers talked about how the role of reflecting on other teachers’ work and on their own work provided an avenue to improve and learn to be better teachers, both during their student teaching experience and when they were on their own. When asked how they learned to be good teachers, respondents often mentioned reflection. “I just think first and foremost seeing what other teachers do, but I would also say reflection. I tried to do a lot of reflection on what works and what doesn’t work. I keep journals of what I do… I think a lot of self-reflection is just huge as well as the ability to see other teachers and what they’re doing” (45).
Others also used feedback from their students along with reflection as another way of improving their practice. “I learned by watching how my students responded to different things. I was constantly reflecting over everything. I still do it…that constant self-critique. But I get a lot of feedback from my kids and I’m constantly asking for it. Constantly we’re sitting around talking about what went right, what went wrong…I think that’s what’s helped the most” (32).
Close to half of the participants in the study had the apprenticeship of family (Lortie, 1975). In many cases these educators indicated that they entered education knowing the demands of the profession. When asked the question, “Was there something special in your background, preparation, or induction?” a representative response was, “My mom was a teacher, my older sister went into teaching, and we just have always been exposed to it…we got to see the ups and downs of teaching ever since we were born, and so it just was instilled in us that we were to have a career that our heart wanted to do and not worry about the little things. My mom and my sister and my grandmother really instilled a lot of that in me” (9). They often indicated that it was a family tradition to be in education and that these family members had a great deal of influence on them. These relatives also supported them during the early years and were role models for them. “I was fortunate that I had family in the building and friends in the building” (37).
Most respondents said they felt reasonably equipped by their preparation programs to launch a teaching career; however, they mentioned several areas that they feel need more attention in teacher preparation programs and during the mentoring process:
It’s different every year. There is always something to learn, something to add to the program…I love the kids and I enjoy the people that I work with. (19)
I particularly love the engagement with the kids and to see that the learning is taking place and to watch them go from where they’re at in September to where they are in June and know that you have done your absolute best to guide those little chicks out of the nest. And you’re ready to move on and they’re ready to move on. And you feel really good about what you’ve done for them in their best interest. (12)
I’m sure it’s the same answer everybody gives, but it’s the children. I can see the results of the work that I’ve done each day of each week or each year. And I still get excited about coming to work. (24)
One of the goals of this project was to see what has kept people in the profession for seven to fifteen years. The interviewer asked at the outset, “What do you like and dislike about teaching?” Then, “Has your enthusiasm changed over the years?” Finally, “What has kept you teaching for this many years?” Certainly, there were a variety of responses. The teachers commented on politics, pay, stress, to name a few. But all of these answers came back to the joy, satisfaction, and commitment to working with children and watching them learn and grow. And lest we think the enthusiasm might wane for high school teachers, “I love working with kids. I love working with high school students. I think they’re so much fun. I teach journalism and I’m passionate about that. I think those are such wonderful experiences” (20).
Commitment to children is a given. To unearth other factors that play into job satisfaction and longevity, the interviewers asked a series of questions related to activities and people in the school, system, and community to see how these respondents felt they contributed to their work as teachers. They asked about the teachers’ experiences and attitudes toward professional development, supervision and evaluation, and committee work. They also asked about their relationships with colleagues, their beliefs about teacher leadership, and their views about the role of parents and the community. MELC staff members did not ask specifically about administrators, but teachers had a lot to say about the importance of principals. In addition, two other factors, time and money, surfaced continually in the interviews.
We asked interviewees to respond to the question, “How did you learn to be an effective educator?” Respondents indicated that plunging into teaching and learning by trial and error was the method that described their experience most fully. Their comments showed the usual tension between the art and science of teaching with many indicating they felt they had a natural inclination and disposition toward this work that combined with a tendency toward learning by doing. Trial and error involved the teachers’ reflection on their practice alone or with others. They also said that observation of good teaching and suggestions from others as well as the infusion of new ideas from conferences and graduate work were essential to helping them grow and improve.
Effective Professional Development
The teachers’ responses to the question about their best professional development experiences can be grouped into several categories: Thirty percent of the responses indicated that ongoing work with a group of colleagues was most beneficial; 18% state or national conferences; 18% graduate work. Thirty percent mentioned specific programs or conferences that they had found useful including the Responsive Classroom, Dimensions of Learning, assessment work sponsored by the state, Maine Math and Science Alliance programs, and AP workshops. Two people had gone through the National Board Certification process; another was part of the Maine School Leadership Network. Apart from the state or national conferences, all the other professional development experiences involved some intense new learning followed by ongoing work in schools and with colleagues.
The teachers indicated that deep and ongoing development with support was critical to their professional learning. Other factors made professional development effective: they had choice about what they were learning; it was hands-on and immediately useful to their practice; and they experienced the same kind of learning situation they were trying to create for their students. So learning about ideas and practices that they worked into the fabric of their daily lives was the most effective.
Ineffective Professional Development Practices
A few individuals implied that committee and teamwork in their schools and district were part of their professional development, and that they had time during professional development days for that work. In-service workshops generally fell into the “worst professional development” category. In fact, the respondents were much more in agreement about what professional development experiences they found ineffective. Many teachers mentioned that mandated cross-district workshops were the most ineffective. These were often half-day workshops held at the beginning of school. The teachers saw them as irrelevant or they were distracted by their own immediate concerns of setting up and planning for a new school year, or the lack of attention of other people. They also described the presentation method of these workshops as being particularly offensive: disorganized, unfocused, and “sit ‘n git” presentations given by outsiders with no credibility because they had not recently been in classrooms.
The responses to what would make professional development more meaningful echoed what they found most useful: choice in what to pursue, relevance and practicality, teachers teaching teachers, and summer institutes followed by ongoing support through the year.
Supervision and Evaluation
The prompt, “Describe the supervision and evaluation process in your school,” got a variety of responses. Most were very clear about the process for beginning teachers, describing the number of and timelines for observations. Many indicated that the process for continuing contract teachers was or had recently been under review and revision. No matter what type of system for continuing contract teachers they described, teachers saw it as inconsistent or minimal, depending on the principal. Most respondents described evaluation as being based on observations by an administrator, and these evaluations were perfunctory, but necessary, aspects of the administrator-teacher relationship. Nearly all of these descriptions followed a typical path for continuing contract teachers in that they were not evaluated every year. Some involved formal and informal observations. Eleven people indicated that they are engaged in a process that involves different kinds of experiences in a two or three-year cycle: portfolio development, study groups, action research, peer observation, all coupled with goal-setting and administrator observations and evaluations. A few described systems being recently implemented that involve teaching standards and rubrics to assess their fulfillment.
Three major areas emerged from the follow-up questions regarding supervision and evaluation: the importance of informal observations, the question of improvement of teaching practice, and teachers’ desire for frequent constructive critiques of how they are doing their jobs.
More than half of the respondents mentioned informal observations. Most were by the principal, and a few of them were by other supervisors or colleagues. The striking aspect of the teachers’ comments was how much they liked and appreciated informal visits by the principal. Some mentioned how much better they thought these kinds of observations were to the evaluation process because they were more authentic and more frequent. Many said they appreciated the support, encouragement, and suggestions made in the context of these visits.
Enhancement of Teaching
A direct question from the interviewer, “Does the supervision and evaluation process enhance your teaching?” produced interesting findings. Thirty-nine percent said that it did not. Thirty-one percent said that it did, and the rest were equivocal. The equivocations were clarified by: if the standards are clear and focused, if the principal is good at giving focused feedback, if it contains some kudos, if the teacher picks his or her own goal, if there is carry over from year to year regarding implementation of suggestions, if the teacher is clear about needs, and if it generates a good conversation about practice.
A final question from the interviewer, “How could the supervision and evaluation process be more effective?” elicited a wealth of suggestions. All of these come under the heading of more: more frequent, more consistent, more authentic, more spontaneous, more focused on specific content and pedagogy, more feedback, all of which could be accomplished by having more people involved. One interviewee said, “You don’t get better at things without constructive criticism and positive reinforcement. But if you don’t hear it, how do you know?” (14).
Teachers who were involved in varied approaches to supervision and evaluation were enthusiastic about the potential and the reality. Learning circles, action research, peer/team collaboration, opportunities to observe colleagues, student and parent input were offered as promising ways to provide solid, useful feedback and support for improvement. Teachers were sympathetic to principals with regard to the daunting requirements of supporting and assessing new teachers along with the other demands of the job. But they were wistful about what that meant for them as continuing contract teachers.
Frequent changes in administration, seemingly continuous revision of evaluation systems, and the ratios of administrators to teachers meant that many teachers have not experienced much input from other professionals since they attained continuing contract status. By and large, the teachers came across as eager to try new ways of sharing the responsibility to make the system more meaningful and fruitful for themselves and their colleagues.
Almost all of the interviewees said that they were involved in committee work at their schools. More than half of them said they participated on committees at the union or district level, and one quarter of the respondents said that they were on committees or involved in task work at the state level.
Most people had something to say regarding both questions: “Does this work enhance your teaching? Does this work detract from your teaching?” Some indicated that school-level committee work was most meaningful and helpful, whereas others found work at the district level, rather than the school, provided the added value. Respondents gave a variety of ways that committee work had a positive impact on their teaching. They said it helped them see the big picture of where they were going with regard to curriculum alignment and assessment. These visions coupled with specific implementation steps provided direction for their classroom work. They described ways they felt committees helped them keep up with the field as well as learn more about other disciplines, other grade levels, and other perspectives, both practical and philosophical. A few said directly that they felt committee work was a necessary part of being a teacher because coordination and organization needed to be done for them to do their jobs effectively. Others found being on committees helpful because they enjoyed the research and problem-solving process; they found the work helped them keep organized; and they got energy to take back into the classroom. One interviewee provided lots of detail. He said, “In our curriculum meetings, I learned tons about education. Designing assessments, how to administer assessments that meet the guidelines of what the State’s asking for in local comprehensive assessments…. I probably learned more in our vertical wellness teams about curriculum and assessment in three years than I’d ever learned in education” (2).
As indicated, most of the respondents also acknowledged that committee work can and does detract from their work in the classroom. The amount of time committee work involves— mostly after school, but sometimes during the school day—was the major detraction. Teachers also indicated that participation on committees saps energy that adds to their sense that it is an add-on without added value. Teachers had the same criticisms of committee work that detracted from the classroom as they had for professional development. It detracted if it was not a choice, had no clear goals, felt as if it were top down (from the district or state levels), was not relevant or meaningful to classroom needs, was disorganized, or had no follow-through.
One respondent indicated that the anxiety surrounding standards means that lately teachers have been putting too much time and energy into assessments; another felt they had done too much “root” work only to have directives nullify their plans; another said that the heightened expectations for quality products made committee work onerous. Teachers in small schools complained that there was too much work to do, so they were exhausted by the demands, and a few others complained that some teachers did not carry their weight when it came to sharing the responsibilities for completing the tasks committees were formed to do. A few people mentioned how important it was to have a good leader or facilitator of a committee to ensure the work moves smoothly and is shared equally. One teacher said, “This [district English/Language Arts] committee that we’re on is pretty big. It opened my eyes to huge differences in point of view that I never would have had because you’re always thinking of your experiences. It makes you understand why sometimes things get stuck in a place and the work that needs to be done ahead to support the ship because the change is not going to happen if you don’t educate and start trying to get the ship going. Everybody is at different levels” (4).
Connections to School and Colleagues
Interviewees were asked specifically if committee work helped them feel more connected to their school and colleagues. Responses showed how useful and important they thought committee work was for new teachers to get to know people in the school or district and for all teachers to network, share ideas, and bond with others around a shared direction or outcome. Some mentioned that such work is more satisfying and enjoyable than workshops and the supervision and evaluation process. Committee work allowed them to feel as if they were learning and coaching each other as they designed curriculum and assessments and conversed with other teachers about their practice. A high school teacher elaborated on the committee work associated with the accreditation process, “That makes you feel connected to your school—taking a look at what you’re doing in your high school—evaluating your programs, looking at things you need, working together basically with people you normally wouldn’t work with” (2). A few teachers said, though, that they needed more structured time for various committees to share their ideas and products with other colleagues.
The interviewer asked, “How important have your colleagues been to you and your work in education?” All respondents had something to say about the importance of colleagues. Most comments were positive with regard to how much teachers get from collegial relationships. Sentences such as “there’s always someone there,” “we’re very close,” and “they’re vital” flowed through the responses. The interviewees felt very strongly that their colleagues were important to them and, to a large extent, helped to keep them in the profession.
There were differences in the kinds of collegial relationships they discussed. Collaboration was not very prevalent except where teachers worked in teams or co-taught a group of students. Many did not use the term or describe collaborative work on school tasks as a source of satisfaction to them.
Three-quarters of the teachers described informal connections with colleagues for support of all kinds, personal and professional. They mentioned encouragement, appreciation, commiseration, reflection, feedback, camaraderie, and advice. They described what happens as colleagues share materials, take over a class, influence their teaching, help untangle a problem, pick up the pieces in the classroom, and serve on committees with one another. These informal connections happen over lunch, in each other’s rooms or the teachers’ room, and at colleagues’ homes. One teacher commented, “Now we are eating together everyday. We used to eat alone in our rooms and work. We are willing to talk and share and ask questions” (33). Another said, “Informal connections are more powerful. Social and professional talk gatherings run together. It’s healthy to laugh and vent” (45). Several people mentioned e-mail as another way they seek and receive collegial support.
The same number of respondents described formal ways they view their colleagues as important to them and their work as teachers. More than half of the teachers said they worked in some kind of team, primarily grade level teams, but some were disciplinary or cross-disciplinary and some were actual team teaching situations. The comments about teamwork were very positive. “Being in teams, I learned so much that helped my development as a teacher” (6); “We are committed to work as a team in spite of the extra time required” (7); “It’s rewarding to support colleagues and work in collaborative relationship with them…We coach each other…It’s the best professional development” (16). A teacher who belonged to a team and was a member of a Critical Friends Group said, “It’s a huge part of being a good teacher and being successful to have someone you can work with and connect with. It helps you think, too” (26).
Teachers appreciated the importance of their colleagues in staff, grade level, or curriculum meetings, study or colleague-critic groups, and peer coaches. Special education teachers and other “specials” (e.g. physical education, health, speech) commented on how important they found meetings with “regular education” teachers for sharing and support. On the other hand, it was often, though not always, these teachers who mentioned isolation. A quarter of the interviewees described their experience as “isolated” or “lonely.” Other reasons given were the result of physical location in the school, culture of the school, or personal choice. In order to get classroom work done, these respondents reluctantly chose to have fewer collegial interactions.
The ones who were in teaching teams or co-teaching or in interdisciplinary situations talked most about how those things worked to benefit their teaching and students’ learning. This is where respondents revealed more depth about what it means to be more than collegial, to truly collaborate day in and day out on the work of teaching. One person said, “We do a lot more collaboration…There’s a renewed energy and excitement around how we’re all going to help all of these kids…There’s a message here that we all own all the children” (4). Another said, “It’s just so great not having to reinvent the wheel…My team is so important to me…I can’t imagine not working with a lot of people now” (22).
The people working with others who focused on specific students were most eloquent about the depth of support they received from colleagues. They noted how committed they were to each other and the work, how much they learned from each other and helped each other develop as teachers, how helpful it was getting and giving daily feedback, and having consistent opportunities to develop plans and exchange ideas with others.
More people than not described strong or fairly strong collegial connections with other teachers. Some people yearned for more from these connections: more feedback and opportunities to observe and share effective practices. One teacher said, “I need to be able to go in to someone like Tom and say, ‘I need you to come in to my classroom to observe this thing. Can you give me some feedback on how to do this?’…That’s the piece that I’m lacking and missing” (21). Another said,
But I have found that every time I have needed something, every time I didn’t understand, every time I was overwhelmed, I could go to either one of them and get grounded and get some assistance, get some good advice from people who knew. The first time we had to change a principal, I was really kind of worried about that because I liked the one we had, and I didn’t know what the new one was bringing. They said, ‘You know, you’re going to outlive probably 8 or 9 principals if you stay here.’ Principals come and principals go and they all bring a good piece and they’ll all bring something that you may not agree with, but that doesn’t need to change who you are and how you work. They (my team members) ground me. (17)
Many teachers who had team or supportive collegial experiences were eager for more. They advocated for more structures that allowed time for collegial interactions. There were only a few comments that indicated that colleagues can be hurtful or even detrimental to one’s teaching or that collegiality can interfere with meaningful critique. A teacher whose comments resonated with others’ remarks said that things had changed. She indicated that because they collaborate more, “we all own the children.” She elaborated, “I think before, a lot of us worked in isolation and in taking my course work it seems to be a common theme of other colleagues across the state. There was really no consistency…it was a norming approach. With standards, we’re actually looking more at what do we want kids to know and how are we going to get them there” (4).
Another teacher described a personal change because of peer interaction.
Maybe when I began teaching, I could have possibly thought that I would be better off sort of on my own. And that may have been due to some insecurities about what I was doing in my room, wanting to know if I was doing it right and not wanting to put myself out there. Now when people come into my room, I think I’m much more comfortable because I have some confidence in what I am doing. (42)
It is interesting to note how much the collegial climate seemed to vary from school to school. Respondents would describe the situation they had been in and wistfully indicate that the new school did not have that kind of togetherness or vice versa. The interviews did not contain any descriptions of how an interviewee had sought out others or tried to incorporate collegial activities if they were non-existent. Some suggested that new teachers need a close mentor who can keep new teachers going, offer immediate advice and support, and help explain the dynamics of the school. These teachers were either describing the informal situation they found or what they wished they had.
The respondents expressed generally positive comments about teacher leadership. It did not seem like a non-issue or a foreign concept. Their comments showed the double meaning of the term: teachers as leaders and the leadership of teachers. These overlap, too, but no question seemed to skew them one way or the other. The answers seemed to start with kinds of teacher leader roles, moved to their sense of themselves as leaders, and then to teacher leadership generally. But that is a pretty broad pattern and probably was related to the progression of the prompts on this topic.
Teachers as Leaders
When asked about leadership roles they played in schools, two-thirds mentioned formal positions they held as department heads, team leaders, and chairs of school and district curriculum or ad hoc committees. A few responded that they did not become teachers to play any kind of leadership role or simply that they did not want to take on that role—at least for the time being. A third described how they felt they played informal leadership roles. They elaborated by saying they provided mentoring or support for others; they were seen as “gurus” by virtue of longevity or expertise; they spoke out at meetings about issues of concern to others; or they were “quiet” leaders. To some, quiet leader meant they led by following and were good role models. They were the ones who by speech or action would say, “Let’s do it.” They were liaisons to administrators. Many acknowledged the leadership of nay-sayers or maintainers of the status quo. They felt that their own leadership, in whatever form, had to strategically and politically counteract negative attitudes and influences.
A few commented that they themselves did not take on leadership roles because they needed to focus on the classroom or their personal lives, which precluded them from taking on more responsibilities at this time. They indicated, though, that they had or would if they felt their focus on their students would not be compromised or when their own children were older. They all indicated that there is a lot of work that needs to be accomplished beyond the classroom (curriculum, assessments, climate, and colleague development), which shows a change in teachers’ understanding what the job of teacher entails. These interviewees displayed an increased awareness and acceptance of the teacher role as more than just classroom teaching. One person said they look for leadership potential when interviewing candidates for positions (29). They understand collaborative leadership as teamwork which uses strengths and interests to advantage in order to accomplish shared goals.
Leadership of Teachers by Teachers
The questions of how these teachers and their colleagues viewed teacher leadership garnered many more positive than negative comments. The few negatives were such things as resentment at peers for telling others what to do. The resentment was coupled with seeing teacher leadership as either a co-option of teachers or an increase in bureaucratic decision-making. A few indicated that other teachers were relieved when peers stepped forward or took over responsibility for leading a group. Most teachers remarked that teacher leadership was viewed positively because teachers preferred hearing from their colleagues, and they felt teachers needed to be heard by the administration.
Several of the interviewees commented that their view of teacher leadership was colored by the individual taking on the role. Some expressed this in terms of their own discomfort in such a role; others implied that methods and attitude played a part in how they responded to individual teacher leaders. In addition, a few said they certainly wanted to be represented by teachers, but they worried about who the representatives were and how they might articulate the teachers’ perspective. A respondent said, “It has to do with the person in the role and culture of the school. In my school, leaders are seen positively, because we are a collaborative school” (16).
Seeing themselves as part of a team with the leadership of the group being shared as well as the group itself representing the ideal of leadership by teachers were common visions of teacher leadership. Maintaining the direction of the school and the responsibility of teachers to participate in shaping, as well as fulfilling, the goals was an undercurrent in the comments. Many felt that all teachers understanding the expanding responsibilities and participating in the decision-making process were critical to effective schools. One teacher said, “We all lead in different ways and are good at letting people take over in the place where they are effective as leaders…Every teacher has a niche, and it’s important to find that niche. Find out what you are good at and assume leadership there” (32).
The idea of sharing the burden was a major theme with a couple of strands. Several people said they see teacher leaders as doing work so others do not have to; whereas others described teacher leadership as shared and rotated so no one was burdened and all reaped the benefit of having teachers lead and have a voice. Those are two of the reasons why the leadership of teachers is important to an effective school. Other comments were “teachers are the foundation for what’s going on in the school…[teacher leadership means] you would see things executed in a teacher way” (13); “to see outside of their own little classroom…worked with a lot of people…see things from the other side and their point of view a lot better” (31); “teachers have to have those leadership roles because then there’s more ownership for it” (39); “when there are teacher leaders I think the rest of the staff is happy…they teach better, the kids are content to learn more and everybody’s happy” (15).
Eighty-five percent of the teachers acknowledged the necessity of teachers having leadership roles. Their rationale was primarily that teachers are the “core” of the school. They need to have a voice and help set the direction of the school to ensure a focus on children. Teacher leadership—the leadership of teachers—promotes ownership and shared responsibility. Several noted that teacher leadership can relieve the burden of administrators; others that it provides a check and balance to the leadership of administrators; others that it is a bridge to administration. The need for a flat school organization is echoed here. Many teachers argued for collaborative leadership. “It’s more necessary for teachers to work together as a cohesive team with the child as the center of focus. We don’t need a leader to emerge as long as everyone has the same goal” (1).
Parents and Community
The interview protocol contained two direct questions about both the role of parents and the community in schools. Respondents also referred to parents, especially, in other sections of the interview.
The respondents saw the role of parents in their child’s education and thus, in their own work lives, as invaluable. They described the role as a partnership, a joint effort, teamwork. They expressed such views as parents have the most important role because children are home more and parents are their first teachers; parents need to be advocates for their children; they are crucial for a good education for the child; “they help them to learn how to learn; they support the educational structure, and they ingrain curiosity in kids” (55).
Almost all comments about parents were positive. Teachers understand how much they need to involve parents, to communicate effectively with them, and to help them support their child’s learning at home. The respondents described various ways they ensure parental connections by communicating needs and interest and seeking input: newsletters, e-mail, phone calls, meetings, volunteer opportunities, handbooks, questionnaires, surveys, curriculum guides, narrative report cards, and student–led conferences. Some teachers described ways that questions and input from parents helped their teaching and their professional development. “Parents provide a check that helps keep me accountable” (21). “Teachers need to have someone help them with the learning work” (43).
Of course, there were issues with some parents. In high school, few show up for meetings about their child. Sometimes they are angry and defensive. Some expect too much from teachers and the school because they do not understand or appreciate a teacher’s role.
One teacher, though, described how hard it was to deal with parents when she moved to a new district. She felt undermined and unsupported by an administration that kowtowed to parents.
And parents absolutely not coming to me, but picking up the phone to the superintendent and the principal. Hello! You know, let’s be fair. I think that might be an area to be explored—transition from one district to another. I would love to hear other people’s experiences and how they survived that, because when you do that it’s like teaching all over again. It’s like that first year. You’re getting to know a place and the people and the kids and the curriculum. And yes, it’s difficult, but wow, mine was 10 times more difficult. And it really made me think about my values and beliefs as a person and a teacher and where I wanted to be, which has been a good thought process. (12)
A major theme in discussions about parents was the way teachers’ views of parents have changed since they started teaching. Many admit they did not think about parents much as they were preparing for teaching. So acknowledging the role of parents and the teacher’s responsibility to keep them informed and involved are major changes. A few felt that they had blinders regarding parents’ attitudes, and they were surprised by parents’ indifference or hostility.
Teachers as Parents
A large number of teachers mentioned how their view of parents had changed as a result of having their own children. They now make a point to give parents good directions about how to help their child or they try to protect family time by giving less homework. They understand what it’s like to work full-time and have children, too, so they are less critical of parents’ lack of involvement and grateful for the attention they do receive. They are aware of their own child’s needs and want to ensure a good learning experience for that child. But they are also understanding of their children’s teachers. One teacher talked about how having children made her more cognizant of how important school is to children’s learning.
A few interviewees alluded to the ways parents move from thinking about their own child to thinking about all children. These activities took the form of PTA support, extra-curricular coaching, community nights, and mentoring students. But they described the community generally as distant and uninvolved. Some mentioned community groups, e.g., Rotary, fire and police departments, as active in the school. And some schools involve people in grandparents’ day; projects like reading buddies, senior pen pals, Project Storybook; career days; job shadows; and “Make a Difference Day.”
The teachers know they need to reach out and make sure that the community at large understands their work in order to provide moral and economic support. Several teachers mentioned the need for more openness to the community. The teachers seemed disheartened, though, by their perceptions that society, generally, and even their own communities, specifically, do not respect their work, do not seem to care, or do not even believe in schools. These problems result from demographics, old-fashioned notions of schools, and the closed attitudes of school people. One teacher remarked on how unwilling her system was to allow community members to use school buildings especially on weekends. “It’s kind of a two-way street. It’s nice to have the community involved, but you have to have the schools willing to do that as well” (49). Another teacher brought up the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” (21).
The interview protocol contained no direct questions about principals or administration other than “Are you interested in administration?” toward the end of each session. Nevertheless two-thirds of the respondents mentioned principals as being important to their support and development as professionals at the very beginning and throughout their careers. A few mentioned other administrators who likewise play a significant role. They expressed the same feelings about principals as they did about their colleagues: They were kind, humane, warm, respectful, involved, available, sensitive, and helpful. One said the relationship with her principal “was the biggest factor in my success” (32). Another said the principal was “extraordinary in being able to see what is going on and providing help” (34). Another described the principal as “a master educator. He cares about teachers and students. It feels as if he’s guiding teachers” (20).
Most of the comments about principals were positive. Principals’ actions that teachers found supportive, both personally and professionally, were having an open door to the school and community, focusing on teaching and learning, making consistent decisions, ensuring a safe environment for talking about and improving practice, providing specific strategies, relying on teachers, being willing to listen to teachers, communicating effectively, putting the school in the center of the community, making processes transparent, and mentoring.
One quarter of the respondents, though, voiced some negative concerns about principals. These complaints ranged from the principal is out of the loop; parents have too much say here; the principal needs to delegate more; teachers are allowed to be hostile to each other; teachers feel the stress of being watched; and there is no administrator follow-through. Several teachers commented that they suffered from a revolving door of principals. Some were hopeful that a new order was coming because they had a new principal, as one said, that “makes me feel like a professional again” (20). Another said, “I have had the whole spectrum —bad to wonderful. Administration makes all the difference in the world” (48). A teacher who had left teaching partly because she had been “left alone to struggle” said she “would return for an administrator who is supportive and understands special needs children” (50).
Many teachers were sympathetic to principals because of how busy they are and how many demands they face from all corners. They were especially concerned about the demands from district level that meant the principals were not available to their own staffs and could not provide the kinds of formal and informal support teachers need. Most of the interviewees said they had no desire to become administrators mostly because they feel as if they would be giving up daily contact with children. One said, “I want to be on the front lines with kids. I don’t want a leadership role. I don’t want to be responsible for other adults” (12). But one respondent said she has a new principal who is doing “a phenomenal job…I enjoy watching her grow because that will be the next natural progression for me” (17). Table 11 indicates the teachers’ level of interest in pursuing a career in educational administration.
Table 11: Teachers Interested in Administration
A few, of course, have become administrators (indicated by “not applicable” in Table 11). They do not want to lose their close connection to teachers and teaching. One principal described it this way,
I feel very supported as this school’s principal, and I guess I feel that support from the faculty is genuine. I feel they have demonstrated to me that they will tell me when they think things are going well, and they also will tell me, and I appreciate it, when they think things aren’t going as well as they could. I also realize that some of that is probably tempered by the fact that I am in this office. In spite of my hope that they’re being very honest with me and up front, I realize that by virtue of me just being in this office that some of that is probably lost. (36)
Until many people walk in the shoes of an educator, they don’t know what that’s like – the responsibility that comes from managing student learning, being responsible for that. …I really worry when I hear people out in the public saying, “Well, you know we pay teachers too much and they don’t even work in the summer time” and “These teachers don’t know what they’re doing” and “Schools are failing.” And that’s going to discourage teachers in a hurry from ever entering the profession in the first place, let alone keeping them in the profession. And there’s a whole lot more to teaching than being able to follow a script. What we ask teachers to do is incredible. It’s highly rewarding when it’s going well, but it’s a very, very challenging task…We need to really honor the work of teachers and find ways of making it much more positive and getting society to be much more positive and help teachers in the work that they do, recognizing just how highly skilled you have to be to do that work every single day. (16)
As noted throughout the previous section, there were negative comments and critiques of all aspects of their work lives, but the teachers on the whole expressed positive feelings about supportive people and processes in their schools. Some larger issues, however, brought almost universal negative comments.
The interviewers did not ask respondents specifically about time, but it was a major theme throughout the interviews. Eighty percent of the respondents mentioned time as a factor in their work lives. Several described the number of hours they spend preparing for the classroom as a major issue in their personal lives. “I devote 60-70 hours a week” (6). “It’s a way of life because it’s a twenty-four hour job” (12). “I’m not home before 8 p.m. every day” (14). “I am here every Sunday afternoon for 4-5 hours and I work every single night” (17). Two said they had to leave teaching when they had children because they could not devote the time they knew they needed to do the job well.
Some indicated there were time wasters in the job: workshops, bureaucratic demands, paperwork, especially in special education, staff meetings. Primarily they just voiced frustration, for example, “There are so many things on our plate. We don’t have time to be a mentor to new teachers” (7). “I always feel behind. There are so many demands and I want to stay current” (20). “We need more time to reflect. I don’t know how to do that. So much is expected especially accountability wise… I don’t like the pressure now” (43). “In order to do it well, I have to put in extra time and do extra things” (44).
Many developed efficiencies like doing all the unit planning in the summer; taking work home rather than staying at school; letting some things go (like correcting all the homework); working smarter at school by, for example, not talking as much to colleagues or taking on fewer extra-curricular or professional tasks; lessening intensity by, perhaps, being social with colleagues or adapting curricula; and working part-time as a teacher. Some respondents urged schools to be more careful of new teachers so that they do not become overburdened, burnout, or leave the profession. Others felt that prospective teachers need to have more preparation and advance notice of the kinds of time demands they would face to ensure they are committed to the amount of time and the kinds of expectations teaching.
Salary and Resources
The interview protocol had no questions about salary or monetary support for education. However, a little more than half of the respondents mentioned money usually in the opening section when they were asked about satisfactions of the job or whether or not they would recommend the profession to others. It also came up in the final open-ended question, “Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?” An equal percentage of men and women mentioned money in their responses. The comments concerning money fell into three categories: salary generally, a personal story about the hardships of a teaching salary, or the lack of resources in their districts or support for schools generally.
Of the teachers who made a general comment about money, a third commented on the inadequacy of the salary in comparison to other professions and to its importance in society generally. One person said, “Pay us more. We are the most underpaid people in the world. If we didn’t have teachers, we wouldn’t have lawyers, doctors, corporate executives. How can you retain people if they can’t afford to live in a way that’s comfortable and relative to their importance to society?” (20).
Two-thirds discussed how much increased salaries were needed to garner a greater yield of prospective teachers or to ensure higher performance and longevity and prevent burnout of experienced teachers. Eighteen respondents brought up a personal story related to compensation for teachers. Some said that money wasn’t an issue at first, but family demands and other kinds of concerns like medical issues and retirement have forced them to see things differently. Others told stories of having second jobs now or at the beginning of their teaching careers. For example, one teacher said, “That two weeks’ salary is barely paying my mortgage right now. I am going into credit card debt being in this profession with a Master’s degree and nine years’ experience. Is that a living wage?” (22). A few women commented that they felt sexist recommending the job only to other women because they felt that it was adequate only as a second income for a family. A few people who have left teaching indicated that money was a consideration.
On the other hand, the tone of many of the responses was that the interviewees loved teaching. Money was not a major reason why they chose to be teachers or have chosen to remain. A few even stated directly that they are not in it for the money nor do they think other teachers are. “It’s one of the few jobs that I really feel that I earn my money and I’m doing something good for society” (15).
Fifteen percent of all interviewees brought up issues related to monetary support for schools. Some teachers told about the money they or others they knew had put into their classrooms for supplies and materials. Others remarked on the budgetary constraints schools encounter, but most commented on inequities of the structures for supporting schools whether they were within a particular town’s budget, comparing towns across the state, or about the basis of support for schools. One teacher said, “The structure for teacher compensation, as far as taking it from property taxes, is out of whack. That should not be, because I think people generally believe that education is something that should be invested in, but when people are seeing it come out of their taxes that goes out the window” (47). But one interviewee, a former teacher said, “I think there are never enough resources, financial or human” (52).
Accountability: Maine Learning Results, Local Assessments, and No Child Left Behind Act
… it is just a huge spinning cycle, like a tornado, and it’s all flipping in there and I’m in the eye of the storm. (4)
This remark summarizes best the way these educators reacted to Maine Learning Results (MLR), the local assessment system (LAS), and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). While occasionally pointing to some professional development benefits of these initiatives, most respondents feel caught in a force beyond their control that is sucking money, time, and energy from their classroom work. Few distinguished one initiative from another in its effects on their professional lives. Many blamed both the state and federal governments for the negative impacts they perceive.
At the time of the 1997 Select Seminar, MLR had only recently been approved by the state legislature. Plans for the local assessment system were just being formulated. No one imagined the “high stakes” consequences that would be imposed by NCLB. The 1997 seminar conveners asked participants to discuss their opinions about and experiences with MLR. The 1997 seminar report states that while the teachers were quite supportive of the initiative, there was “an uneven awareness and understanding” (Storms, Eagan, Millen, Spruce & Walls, 1997, p.7) about MLR even though implementation work had begun in some districts. Teachers mentioned some concerns: the nature and quality of the assessments, the effect on students who fail to demonstrate mastery, the repercussions for districts that failed to comply, and the need for resources to accomplish the work. The report acknowledged “an undercurrent of anxiety, which was fueled by a fairly widespread lack of information (Storms, Eagan, Millen, Spruce & Walls, 1997, p.7).” The tone and content of the 2003-4 interviews reflect the extent to which these concerns remain.
The past six years have been a turbulent time in public education. The reforms put into place by far-reaching state and federal initiatives have come more quickly and been more comprehensive than any earlier policy revisions. The educators interviewed reflected the anxiety, dislocation, and fatigue that often accompany swift, dramatic change. While state legislators and the State Department of Education officials make cogent arguments about the contradictions between MLR and NCLB, those interviewed who are responsible for implementing the initiatives evaluate them by the impact that these changes are having on their classrooms and professional lives. The “high stakes” consequences of failing to comply with NCLB, especially the identification of so-called “failing schools,” have caused both fear and anger. While many of the people interviewed agreed with the need for accountability, they felt overburdened by the work of aligning the curriculum with MLR and creating local assessments. No matter how hard they work, they expect to find their schools at some point on the “failing” list.
In these interviews, educators were not asked to comment directly on MLR, local assessments, or NCLB. However, almost all of them raised the subjects when asked their views on teaching, committee work, and recommendations of the profession to others. Concerns were also expressed in the responses to the last question, an open-ended one, that allowed respondents to articulate opinions they wanted to be sure were reflected in the report.
When we organized the interview responses by teacher’s grade level, we discovered that elementary teachers have many more reservations about the means and measures of accountability than do their peers at the middle and high school levels. Because many of these teachers reported working one day per weekend at their schools ever since they began their careers, the demands of accountability only added to an increasingly undoable workload. They also stated that assessment was taking creativity away from their teaching. Their reaction may be the result of the greater amount of time that elementary educators have had to take to align their curricula to MLR and develop the corresponding assessments. Where high school and some middle school teachers have been responsible for only one or two subject matter areas, elementary teachers are responsible for more subjects. Table 12 shows the number of teachers’ comments about time arrayed by type of school.
|Table 12: Teachers' Comments About Time by Type of School|
Time as a Concern
|Type of School||High School||7||77.8%||2||22.2%|
Elementary Educators’ Views
All but two of the educators working in elementary schools mentioned issues related to accountability. The respondents’ comments followed these general patterns:
Time to Do the Work
Almost half of the elementary educators interviewed felt that the time spent on developing and administering local assessments was time that they needed to prepare for their classroom work. Many felt that the time devoted to curriculum alignment and local assessment development comes at the expense of classroom planning time. As one teacher said, “It’s almost sometimes more work to do committee work than what I can put into planning my day teaching in the classroom” (44). Another educator in a small district which had no curriculum coordinator and who had done extensive curriculum development and training work for the state described the amount of committee work required as “almost humanly impossible” (38). The conflict is hard to resolve because many educators have no more time to give to their professional lives. Another teacher summed it up by saying, “…we have so little prep time....Learning Results are imposed, local assessment is imposed, and we need the time to do this and it’s not there” (43). Other teachers raised issues with the number of assessments required for elementary students and the time it was taking away from instruction. Primary grade teachers who face the challenge of introducing important basic skills to students who differ greatly in their developmental levels most often raised this concern. One first grade teacher described going to a grade-level meeting and leaving “totally discouraged” because she realized that her students in the course of their K-4 education would be required to complete 140 different assessments.
She insisted that her students weren’t ready for assessment and that the amount of classroom time devoted to conducting these assessments would be far better utilized for instruction (21). Another primary teacher succinctly asked, “[We] are spending so much time on assessment … how am I going to have the time to teach those kids those concepts so that they can be assessed?” (43).
Impact on Developmental Education
Elementary teachers are struggling to reconcile the requirements of assessments with the mandate to meet the needs of each student individually. Trained at a time before standards based education, these teachers are committed to teaching developmentally and believe that the assessments required of early learners have little value. They are also concerned about the tension between assessment mandated at a particular time in a particular grade and the need to individualize instruction for all of their students, especially those on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). One teacher said that she felt that the era of teaching developmentally had ended. Her job now was to “get all kids to a certain place at a certain time” (29). Another said he wished he could use the benchmark system mandated by assessment as a “guide,” leaving the decision about when the child is ready for a particular assessment to the judgment of the teacher (21). Another teacher said, “All fourth graders aren’t in the same place. And all eighth graders aren’t in the same place. And that doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. It just means that’s the way it is” (1).
Frustration with Changing Guidelines
Respondents expressed a great deal of frustration about the time needed to redo curriculum alignment and local assessment work as guidelines from the State Department of Education have changed. Many found that they would put a great deal of work into an assessment only to learn that what they had done was not what the State intended when new or revised guidelines were issued. Those from the 1993 seminar had had experience with the Common Core of Learning and Learning Results and were very frustrated by the work that they were now being asked to do because they thought it was repetitive and no longer interesting or worthwhile. One of those teachers explained that all of the committee work no longer felt as if it was time well spent. The imprecision in state requirements made her think that she and her fellow teachers were just guessing in their work on curriculum and assessment, trying to match a hidden standard. She said, “If you want us to go national, just tell us” (29). Another remarked that guidelines are “coming after the fact” making alignment with MLR and local assessment “very difficult to get into place” (4). For these teachers and others, the perception of the uncertainty and lack of clarity about state accountability measures have not changed much. They expressed the same sentiments at the 1997 seminar.
Impact of Accountability on Recruitment and Retention
The educators interviewed felt that the increasing emphasis on assessment and accountability was having an impact on their decision to stay in education and on recommendations they would make to those interested in becoming teachers. Along with concerns about teachers’ salaries, these elementary teachers felt that state and federal accountability requirements were making the education profession unattractive to many people who had once aspired to be teachers.
Several respondents described how accountability measures were making them rethink their career options. One teacher who described his current professional situation as one of “juggling and spinning plates” said he was considering leaving the profession. The time required to keep up with committee work combined with the fact that almost half of his students had Individual Educational Plans or were identified as Section 504 students contributed to far too many days when he felt ineffective. He said his job was “impossible to do well” (22). Another teacher blamed NCLB for her own and her colleagues’ low morale. She referred to the federal rules on “highly qualified teachers” and said that she thought many teachers would leave because of them. She felt that NCLB would “just destroy what the State of Maine has done for education” (31). One of the people who had recently left public education for private education said that she talks with many of her former colleagues who envy her current position and say that they no longer see themselves as having much of an impact on children because the expectations have grown so much. They are “burned out” and ready to leave (40).
These teachers also wondered who would want to join the profession given the publicity that accountability measures generate. One respondent said she felt that the identification of “failing schools” under NCLB was contributing to the negative public opinion that teachers do not know what they are doing. This attitude, combined with low wages, ought to be enough to discourage anyone from entering the profession (16). Another teacher said her cousin had asked her about becoming a teacher. Even though she encouraged her to join the profession, she felt obligated to warn her about the poor salary and the pitfalls that MLR and NCLB were creating for teachers (37).
Identification as a Failing School
Closely linked with many of the concerns expressed in other parts of this section, elementary teachers also worried about the possible identification of their schools as not making adequate yearly progress under NCLB. They believe that this legislation leads to the mislabeling of good schools and misunderstanding by the public about the schools in their communities. They also felt that there was little support available to schools that are identified under NCLB.
One teacher who works in a school that has already been identified as “failing” said that she “dislikes coming to work and feeling like I’m failing everyday, when I know in my heart that that’s not true” especially since she insists that standardized testing is not an accurate assessment of how a school is doing (8). Another teacher echoed this sentiment saying that NCLB “is going to wreak havoc with a lot of very good schools and very good programs” (19). A primary teacher spoke of lack of monetary support for schools. Many districts muddle their way through curriculum and accountability requirements with little or no help from those who created them. In the meantime, the public is led to believe that these are irrefutable standards and assumes that the labels placed on schools are accurate (33).
Middle and High School Educators
Accountability was on the minds of middle and high school educators as well. All but two of the teachers at this level mentioned assessment, MLR, and NCLB in their comments about what they liked and disliked about education today. However, their comments were somewhat more positive than those of their counterparts in elementary education.
Middle and high school educators were much more likely to mention that they saw professional development benefits in the work of aligning curricula to MLR and developing local assessments. Some mentioned that it made sense to “work backwards,” looking at what students need to know and then developing curriculum and assessments to match those outcomes. Others mentioned that the work they had done in curriculum alignment seemed to make it easier for teachers. This work gave them a much clearer picture of what students should learn and how educators measure it.
One high school educator who had moved into a curriculum coordinator position said that he now understood better the need for MLR. He said that as a teacher he was “burnt out and bitter” about all of the work with curriculum alignment and local assessment. But now as one responsible for the curriculum, he understands the reasons why these changes are being made. He described himself as “more open-minded about why some of these things are being done” (2). A middle school teacher remarked that curriculum and assessment had helped to identify “gaps” in student learning and made the teacher realize that there was a need to revise much of what he had previously been doing in the classroom (6).
These comments indicate that middle and high school teachers are eager to understand not only the “how-tos” of curriculum alignment and assessment. Communication is an important key to acceptance of such policy initiatives. Several other teachers mentioned that they volunteered to work on MLR and assessment committees to “stay in the loop.” Otherwise they feared they would not get the information they needed to successfully implement the reforms in their classrooms.
Middle and high school teachers did share some of the concerns of their elementary peers. Several commented on the amount of time the MLR and local assessment took away from their classroom teaching. A high school administrator voiced a typical concern,
I’m not pleased at this point with the time that it has taken for schools to develop, or I should say, at least for this school to develop a comprehensive local assessment system. I think that’s time that could be better spent doing something else like working directly with kids. (36)
Other interviewees were concerned about the impact of failing to meet standards on one test by the students who are already struggling, fearing that these students will see it as another reason to leave school. One teacher feared that the worry about standards, outcomes, and testing overlooked the fact that “for a lot of kids high school is not a relevant place for them anymore” (20).
Middle and high school educators questioned whether the state and federal governments knew what they wanted from their accountability policies. A respondent who is now an administrator said, “The biggest challenges for me are not in this office… My biggest challenges are having to deal with what’s coming to us from Washington and from Augusta” (36). Another high school educator added, “It gets a little tedious when the state isn’t really sure where it’s going yet” (25). An echo of this sentiment came from a middle school teacher who said that her experience was to attend workshops, putting in many hours of work on curriculum alignment, only to have to redo the work several months later because of changing standards and guidelines (35).
Preparing, Inducting, and Mentoring Teachers
Teacher preparation enables future teachers to gather the skills needed for teaching. Some argue that knowledge of the content to be taught is all that teaching requires, while others argue that one must also have strong pedagogical skills as well. Skilled teachers know that it is necessary to hold both – content knowledge as well as strategies “learned by applying knowledge of teaching and learning in supervised practice settings” (Wise, 1999, p. 1). Without this knowledge, new teachers will teach as they were taught, or they will not teach at all (Freiberg, 2002). According to Linda Darling-Hammond (1998),
[T]eachers need to know their subject matter deeply and flexibly, so that they can help students create useful cognitive maps, relate ideas to one another, and address misconceptions. Teachers need to see how ideas connect across fields and to everyday life. This kind of understanding provides a foundation for pedagogical content knowledge, which enables teachers to make ideas accessible to others. (p. 7)
The teachers interviewed for this report had varying educational backgrounds. Some graduated with education degrees while others came to education through alternate routes. These teachers told us that new teachers need more…more classroom management technique, more instructional strategies, more time and experience working with students in the classroom setting, and more knowledge about dealing with parents in meetings and in general. Teacher preparation programs can provide much of this knowledge and experience as can new teacher induction and mentoring programs.
Many schools have mentoring programs in place, but few programs are well developed, and many are haphazardly designed (Johnson & Kardos, 2002). An effective mentoring program has been shown to affect a new teacher’s decision to remain in the teaching profession (American Federation of Teachers, September 2001). As new teachers enter our schools, structures for mentoring and induction need to be established – effective ones that create a support network for teachers. These teachers provided insight into both effective and ineffective
structures. A common theme among those described as effective often included both formal and informal collegial support. Team teaching created this support as well. These teachers expressed a great need to connect with someone in their own school and teaching the same grade level or same subject. Susan Moore-Johnson (2004) described these mentoring programs as “deliberately school-based” (p. 221). She continues,
Not only are these programs school-based, but they also have as their central focus classroom teaching and student learning. They introduce new teachers to the mission and culture of the school, but also include explicit, guided opportunities to translate ideas into specific strategies and methods for classroom use. (pp. 221-222)
In order to be really effective, new teachers need positive enculturation as well as a way to analyze the role that they can play in helping the school community grow and thrive.
Supporting and Sustaining Teachers
The teachers in this study represent our best hope for the future of schools in Maine. They have weathered the rough first years and are hitting their stride as professionals. The key will be to sustain them in the difficult job they do and to enhance their effectiveness as members of learning communities committed to continuous improvement of learning for their students.
This generation of teachers has different needs and desires than the past generation of teachers. According to Susan Moore-Johnson (2004), today’s teachers “expect variety in what they do, with differentiated roles and opportunities to advance in the profession. They want the chance to collaborate with colleagues and to work in organizations that support them” (p. xiii).
The interviewed teachers also expressed what they need to make their work doable: more time to reflect and collaborate with colleagues to improve their practice and the learning environment for their students. These are teachers who have a lot to offer each other. They want to help and be helped on the nitty-gritty tasks of structuring learning and the collective work of realizing shared goals.
The teachers’ comments showed that they are on the crest of the third wave of teacher leadership (Silva, Gimbert & Nolan, 2000). This third wave involves schools empowering teachers from within the classroom to be reflective practitioners and instructional leaders who directly impact students and educational change (Wasley, 1991; Silva, Gimbert & Nolan, 2000; Moller & Katzenmeyer, 1996; Barth, 2001; Kahne & Westheimer, 2000). Teacher leadership originates in the technical core and expands to the whole school. Richard Elmore (2000) describes the technical core as the
[D]etailed decisions about what should be taught at any given time, how it should be taught, what students should be expected to learn at any given time, how they should be grouped within classrooms for purposes of instruction, what they should be required to do to demonstrate their knowledge, and, perhaps most importantly, how their learning should be evaluated. (p. 6)
This knowledge is in the classroom, not in the organization as a whole, so teacher leaders need to influence the entire school community to assure effective improvement in student learning (Moller & Katzenmeyer, 1996). Teachers lead from within by using their practice and understanding of schools to transform schools. As Crowther, Kaagan, Ferguson, and Hann say in Developing Teacher Leaders (2003):
Teacher leadership facilitates principled action to achieve whole school success. It applies the distinctive power of teaching to shape meaning for children, youth, and adults. And it contributes to long-term, enhanced quality of community life. (p. 10)
Teachers in this study describe the important work of teacher leadership. They say that the teachers in a school have to make critical decisions to guarantee things are done “in a teacher way” (26) because they are closest to the work. They think the best professional development is teachers teaching teachers. They are hungry for support and critique from trusted colleagues. They know they all need to share the burden and responsibility for committee work on curriculum and accountability.
They know they also need strong principals. Principals, in concert with teachers, set agendas and frame the parameters of the work. Studies of effective schools emphasize that strong principals cultivate leadership in others (Corcoran, 1990) and create environments for collaboration among teachers (Hoy & Sabo, 1997). Good schools need both strong principals and teacher leadership (Evans, 1998). Evans calls it “binary leadership”: Leadership flows from the top down and from the bottom up, simultaneously inventing, implementing, risk-taking, decision-making, prioritizing, nurturing, and guiding. Strong principal leadership and strong teacher leadership are not in opposition; they work in tandem to ensure “that the faculty are focused on the same goals, take collective responsibility for achieving these, and coordinate their instructional efforts” (p. 243). This authentic participatory leadership implies that teachers can be both effective teachers and strong leaders as they work together with other members of the school community nurturing the learning and growth of their own students and those in the entire school.
Study circles, critical friends groups, support and development teams, and peer review of portfolios offer promising ways to think about sharing another aspect of the work of the principal with teachers in collegial groups. Supervision and evaluation are terms that get in the way of building relationships that imply shared responsibility for improving learning and teaching. Administrators have a definite evaluative role for beginning teachers, but they have a lesser role in assessing continuing contract teachers. The system we have now means that these teachers are neglected. Teachers want much more contact with others who can provide constructive criticism on an ongoing basis. Principals, as instructional leaders, have a role, but the supervisory aspects of the job can easily be shared with the teacher corps.
Just as children do, teachers pass through stages of development. They have evolving perspectives and capabilities as they gain experience in the profession. As teachers mature professionally, they are increasingly able to automatize the functions of teaching so they have time and energy to observe and evaluate other aspects of the school. They emerge from the communal group and take on more responsibility for continuous improvement of the entire school (Moller & Katzenmeyer, 1996). They become the teacher/ modeler/ guider of their colleagues. All teachers play multiple roles. The most effective way to harness the faculty’s potential is to allow the natural ebbing and flowing of power and responsibility, stasis and change, leader and follower.
All teachers are leaders as they collaboratively participate in the meaning-making process of working toward group goals and objectives (Barth, 1991). As leaders, teachers have to understand the responsibility every member of a school has for bringing the educational ideals and goals to fruition. Each member also shares the responsibility for making certain that others are part of the process of decision-making and constructing meaning. Students are part of leadership, too. The work of the adults in the school enfolds the students; leadership is not separate from the teaching and learning in the school. It is the teaching and learning there.
Making these changes does not require a paradigm shift, just a thoughtful reorientation and refocusing of roles within the school. On the other hand, without the restructuring of teachers’ work lives, the kind of collaboration, participation, and evolutionary change we need will be stifled by exhaustion, stress, overload, and burnout.
Lack of time is the universal complaint of modern people—at least Americans. Too few people are trying to do too much with stretched resources. Teachers are already “working smarter,” so the structure and expectations of the teacher’s job are what must change. Japanese teachers spend 18 hours per week instructing students; French teachers, 18.4; American teachers, 25-30 hours per week (Schmidt, Curtis, & Raizen, 1997). The remainder of the workdays of Japanese and French teachers is devoted to working with other adults on tasks that enhance teaching because they offer meaningful learning and skill development for the teachers.
If we continue to push teachers hard to do the work of reform involving standards and sophisticated accountability measures while continuing to teach as many hours as they do now, they will break under the stress. As the teachers’ ability to be flexible and connect meaningfully with students decreases, the institution will crumble (Intrator, 2004). Teachers will not be able to sustain themselves and the work.
In order to capitalize on collegiality and teacher leadership to develop solid coaching relationships, enhance professional development, accomplish tasks of committees, provide meaningful and useful opportunities for learning more about and improving practice, and connect effectively with parents, teachers need time. Principals need it too. They, like teachers, need processes and structures that allow them to do their work and to connect with colleagues to accomplish the work of the school. Principals will stay if they can share the work of the school with teachers, but principals need time to work with them in order to do the work.
Addressing State and Federal MandatesState and federal mandates have increased the burdens on all educators affecting their professional and personal lives and taking away some of the joys and rewards of teaching. The participants described the effects in three ways: the amount of time they must take away from students and classroom activities to fulfill the requirements to implement Maine Learning Results and develop companion local assessments; the confusion arising from the sometimes conflicting goals and mandates of state and federal legislation; and the psychological impact of being told that their performance as educators is not good enough.
The lack of time that educators feel they have to do their jobs adequately is a major finding of this report. The amount of time required for the implementation of Learning Results and the development of local assessments has only added to the problem. Additionally, the burden of this education reform work is not shared equally by teachers throughout the state. Work required by elementary teachers as well as teachers in small districts without curriculum coordinators is greater than that of their peers in the upper grades and larger districts. In order for the work to be accomplished well and in a timely way, we must find ways to share curricula and assessments among all of the districts in Maine. It makes little sense for groups of teachers throughout the state to spend hours creating slightly different products based on the same state mandated requirements. While the intent to acknowledge the desire for local control of education is admirable, we are wearing down our teachers and taking away time that could be better spent planning for the needs of their students. When teachers begin to make important life choices, such as whether to have children, based on the demands placed on them by the profession, the retention of our best teachers is in jeopardy. Looking for other ways to accommodate the demands of MLR implementation and local assessment development is critical. The search for reasonable solutions increases in importance as the Maine State Department of Education seeks to fulfill the legislative mandate to revise MLR.
While the goals of MLR and NCLB are very different, both initiatives have landed in the category of undoable education reform in the minds of many teachers. The teachers in the study are unclear about how the two laws work together and what the implications are for their practice and school. The “high stakes” consequences of NCLB combined with the amount of time that both state and federal assessments are taking from classroom instruction have turned the goodwill and curiosity that teachers reported having towards MLR at the 1997 Select Seminar into resentment. Many feel that their judgment and ability to select the best methods of instruction for their students have been compromised. Whether these two initiatives can be separated in their intentions and perceived effects in the minds of teachers is an unanswered question. The acceptance of assessment in improving education for all students is a stock whose value is plummeting among the participants in this report.
Lastly, the creators of the educational reform initiatives should consider the nature of the people charged with implementing the mandates. As Lortie (1976) writes in his seminal work, Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study, teachers generally share three characteristics: presentism, conservatism, and individualism. As a part of their conservatism, Lortie notes that teachers feel that “the best program for improvement removes obstacles and provides for more teaching with better support” (Lortie, p. 209). To the extent that teachers see these education reform initiatives as obstacles to their best practice, their successful implementation is in jeopardy. Additionally, teachers’ definition of outstanding performance differs from that of their districts and state and federal policy makers. Lortie writes: “School systems often advertise their goals as including … ‘the realization of each child’s potential.’ It is clear that the aims of classroom teachers are less exalted; they are ready to consider a teacher outstanding if he gets observable results and exercises firm [classroom] leadership” (pp.120- 121).
To the extent that teachers’ definition of outstanding performance is something less than the goals of the education reform mandates and the fact that teachers feel they are already working as hard as they can, their lack of acceptance of reform initiatives is predictable and understandable.
In 1999, MELC (then Maine Leadership Consortium) sponsored a Common Ground meeting on the need to provide professional development in support of Maine Learning Results. Noting that the goal of MLR was to improve the achievement levels of Maine students so that they will have the skills required to meet the challenges of the 21st century, the report concluded, “The task of bridging the gap between the current reality and the vision of a more promising future falls to our educators, our people. And unless we make an ongoing investment in our people, the vision will remain insubstantial and unrealized” (Phillips, 2000, p.24).
The participants in these interviews, some of the best educators in Maine, would argue that that investment has not been made. Instead, they understand MLR and the other reform initiatives to be simply more and more work piled on teachers without any additional support. The voices of these teachers need to be heard. Otherwise, the goals of education reform will not be realized.
Recommendations1. MELC should develop a plan of action that will encourage schools to examine the work day and year of professionals in schools in order to find more time for mentoring, meaningful professional development, joint planning time, observations, and other collaborative work of teachers.
2. Teacher preparation programs should find ways to expand the amount of time student teachers spend in the classroom. They need to have the opportunity to work in depth with a number of different educators and in a variety of situations so they have more experience and a full picture of the demands of the profession.
3. Maine’s educators and policy makers should acknowledge that there are two distinct types of mentoring required to ensure teacher success in the classroom and retention in the profession. The first emphasizes the development and enhancement of pedagogical skills that lead to full certification. The second, equally important, helps to induct new teachers into the mission and culture of the school, enabling them to find their places and roles in the professional adult learning environment. While not mutually exclusive, both types of mentoring are essential to retaining our best teachers in education.
4. The entire school staff, not just the principal, should be responsible to mentor and induct new teachers into the profession.
5. District and school leaders should provide new teachers with time. They need the time to develop teaching skills, examine the culture of the school, and understand their own strength and weaknesses as members of the professional community.
6. The job description of teachers should encompass the various roles they must take on to meet effectively the learning needs of all students. Teachers need knowledge and skill development about collaboration and collaborative leadership as they take on roles that suit them and encourage their individual voices.
7. Supervision and evaluation processes should become part of the shared work of teachers and administrators. Peer review procedures and colleague-critic relationships ensure that teachers are constantly receiving and giving feedback to each other on the important work of teaching and learning.
8. Lawmakers and policymakers should evaluate the demands placed on Maine educators by the implementation of the Maine’s Learning Results (MLR) and the local assessment system.
9. The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) should develop efficient and effective processes for developing and sharing local assessments with districts throughout the state. The Legislature and MDOE should assess future revisions to MLR, in part, for their impact on local assessment systems.
10. State policymakers should clearly articulate the differences between the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) from those of MLR. They should continue to seek ways to mitigate the most punitive aspects of NCLB.
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1. What are your views on teaching? What do you particularly like or dislike?
2. Has your commitment and enthusiasm changed since you began teaching?
2a. Would you recommend the profession to family and friends?
2b. Are you still proud to be in education?
3. What has kept you working in education for x years?
3a. Is there something special in your background, preparation, induction?
3b. What was the impact of being identified as an outstanding or promising teacher in 1993 or 1997?
4. Describe the induction process at your first teaching job. (If they have little or nothing to share, ask how they were provided classroom materials, introduced to colleagues, learned about school policies, and developed classroom management strategies.)
4a. If you have worked elsewhere, how is the induction process different?
Experience vs. Induction
5. What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started teaching? Is this something that can be provided through better induction or must it be learned through experience?
6. Has preparation and induction improved for beginning teachers since you began to teach? How? What improvements need to be made?
7. How did you learn to be an effective educator? (Background, preparation, induction, other)
7a. Describe the supervision and evaluation process in your school. Does it enhance your teaching? How could it be more effective?
7b. What kind of committee work have you been involved with? Has it enhanced your teaching? Has it made you feel more connected to your school and colleagues as a whole? Has it detracted from your effectiveness in the classroom?
7c. What has been your best professional development experience? What has been the least worthwhile?
8. How important have your colleagues been to your work in education? What formal or informal ways do you receive support from colleagues?
9. Have you held any formal or informal leadership roles in your school?
9a. How do your colleagues view teacher leadership?
9b. Is it necessary for teachers to have leadership roles in order for schools to be effective?
9c. If your school has teacher leaders, what do their roles look like?
Parents & Community
10. What do you believe is the role of parents and community in education? Has your opinion changed since you began teaching?
11. How long do you plan to remain in education?
11a. What graduate work have you undertaken?
11b. Have you thought about pursuing National Board Certification or work in the Maine School Leadership Network?
11c. Are you interested in administration? Why or why not?
11d. Do you think that you will stay in the profession until retirement?
What We May Have Neglected to Ask
12. Is there anything that we have not discussed that you believe is important for us to know as we work to improve teacher preparation, induction, and retention?
Participants Not Currently Working In Maine K-12 Public Education
1. Why did you decide to leave education? How many years did you teach before you left? Was there anything in your background, preparation, induction or school life that could have been done differently and/or better? If so, would you have remained in education?
2. Are you satisfied with your current professional life? Is it more satisfying than teaching? Why? Would you ever consider returning to education? Why?
3. Have your attitudes and expectations about the education profession changed since the time you decided to become a teacher? In what ways? Are you proud to say that you were an educator?
4. What do you believe is the role of parents and the community in public education? Has your opinion changed since the time you decided to become an educator?
5. Would you recommend a career in education to family members or friends? What would you say that a person needs to become a happy and effective teacher?
6. Is there anything that we have not discussed that you believe is important for us to know as we work to improve teacher preparation, induction, and retention?
About The Maine Education Leadership Consortium
The Maine Education Leadership Consortium is an alliance of Maine educational associations, agencies and institutions providing leadership at the state level in promoting a common agenda for student learning and school improvement. It regularly convenes the officers and executive directors of organizations with the goal of providing the best education possible for Maine children. The self-supporting Consortium represents more than 30,000 educators as well as parents and the business community.
The Consortium can be described as an “organization of organizations” since its membership is organizational rather than individual people. Our members include a diverse group of professional, governmental and public higher education organizations in Maine. Our Board of Directors includes the presidents and executive directors and other officers of education organizations; the chair and vice chair of the State Board of Education; the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner; the deans of education of the University of Maine System campuses; and leaders of business, parent and other state organizations.
About the Authors
Sarah (Sally) Mackenzie is an assistant professor in the educational leadership program at the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development. She was a facilitator of the Maine School Leadership Network. Before that she taught and was a librarian in Maine high schools for eighteen years and worked in the teacher preparation programs of Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby colleges.
Betty J. Morrell is Principal at Readfield Elementary School, in Readfield, Maine. She is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development. She has been in education for 31 years, as a fourth/fifth grade teacher, a teaching principal, curriculum coordinator, and principal.
Stephenie Cook is the Executive Director of the Maine Education Leadership Consortium. She is currently enrolled in the doctoral program at University of Maine College of Education and Human Development. Prior to her employment at MELC she was a senior consultant for Future Management Systems, Inc. specializing in education leadership. She also served for nine years as a member of the Sudbury, Massachusetts School Committee.
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