The Union Recorder

June 29, 2013

COLUMN: If going the wrong direction, the last thing we need is to get there faster

Mike Rowland
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — U.S. News and World Report recently released rankings for teacher preparation programs as determined by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not really read the report in its entirety or study exactly how the rankings were determined. Research is not really my thing.

I did, however, notice that the various college programs across the country were labeled using a star ranking system. I guess that approach would be something akin to the way users of the Internet rank various products with stars — the more stars meaning higher satisfaction. How scientific!

That being the case, a school that received three-and-a-half stars would not be as good as a school that received four stars. A two-star school would be the pits. One would hope that a one star school would probably be on the verge of closure. I don’t r remember seeing a five-star school, but I remind you that I really didn’t look that carefully.

I have been thinking about this for a long time, and I really think I have the answer to the teacher preparation program quality woes in this country.  I found it a number of years ago in the Navy.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I had the opportunity as a young high school principal to attend a Navy Educator Orientation Visit at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville.  The purpose of the visit was to introduce high school principals and counselors to opportunities available to high school graduates through the Navy.

If I remember correctly, at the time NAS, Jacksonville was a training center for FA-18 fighter pilots. On one particular day, I got to meet with a young top gun pilot. When I say young, I think this guy was probably about 30 years old.

His job was to train other top gun pilots, and I remember finding that odd. So I asked him why it was that a pilot of his caliber was not up in the sky shooting down the bad guys instead of teaching others to do the same.

It was in the answer to his question that I found the answer to mediocre teacher preparation. 

He very proudly told me that having the very best fighter pilots train those “young whippersnappers” as he put it to become top gun pilots is the Navy way. The Navy understood the importance of using the very best to train those with requisite skills in a hands-on way.

That’s how we need to train teachers. When a teacher earns the designation of “master teacher”…top gun, if you will … then those individuals should be given a three- to five-year sabbatical to train aspiring teachers who have the requisite skills to become master teachers.

Once the master teacher’s training cycle is up, then he or she should return to the classroom to keep the saw sharp. It might be that the best teachers might work through two training cycles in a career, which would help to ensure that new teachers are exposed to what really works in a classroom. 

I can’t help but believe that this approach would keep our best teachers from burning out and give our most talented undergraduates access to the best strategies and pedagogy in the profession.

I have to admit that I haven’t gotten too deeply into the weed on how this would work. My suspicion is that some kind of commitment would need to take place making sure that “top gun” teachers make the most money and always have a job to go back to when their training cycle is complete.

Likewise, colleges would have to embrace the concept that, while scholarship is important, results are what matter. 

I did notice from media reports, however, that five teacher preparation programs in Georgia received the lowest rating of no stars with a consumer alert designation … whatever that means. Those schools were Albany State, Armstrong Atlantic State, Augusta State (now known as Georgia Regents University Augusta), Columbus State and The University of West Georgia. 

Conversely, Clayton State University earned the highest rating of any Georgia program, receiving three-and-a-half stars for its graduate secondary teaching program. Mercer University's undergraduate secondary program also received a mark of three stars.

Overall, 44 different programs at 22 college and universities in Georgia were included in the report. Of those, 31 programs at 21 institutions earned two stars or less. The future is bright for Georgia’s children.  That was sarcasm in case you missed it.

Let me be clear. It is my belief that many hardworking men and women across this state are dedicating their lives to trying to make better teachers for our children. I am more convinced than ever that they are just working on the wrong stuff.

That being said, if we are going in the wrong direction, the last thing we need is to get there faster.

If going the wrong direction, the last thing we need is to get there faster

 

U.S. News and World Report recently released rankings for teacher preparation programs as determined by the National Council on Teacher Quality. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not really read the report in its entirety or study exactly how the rankings were determined. Research is not really my thing.

I did, however, notice that the various college programs across the country were labeled using a star ranking system. I guess that approach would be something akin to the way users of the Internet rank various products with stars — the more stars meaning higher satisfaction. How scientific!

That being the case, a school that received three-and-a-half stars would not be as good as a school that received four stars. A two-star school would be the pits. One would hope that a one star school would probably be on the verge of closure. I don’t r remember seeing a five-star school, but I remind you that I really didn’t look that carefully.

I have been thinking about this for a long time, and I really think I have the answer to the teacher preparation program quality woes in this country.  I found it a number of years ago in the Navy.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I had the opportunity as a young high school principal to attend a Navy Educator Orientation Visit at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville.  The purpose of the visit was to introduce high school principals and counselors to opportunities available to high school graduates through the Navy.

If I remember correctly, at the time NAS, Jacksonville was a training center for FA-18 fighter pilots. On one particular day, I got to meet with a young top gun pilot. When I say young, I think this guy was probably about 30 years old.

His job was to train other top gun pilots, and I remember finding that odd. So I asked him why it was that a pilot of his caliber was not up in the sky shooting down the bad guys instead of teaching others to do the same.

It was in the answer to his question that I found the answer to mediocre teacher preparation. 

He very proudly told me that having the very best fighter pilots train those “young whippersnappers” as he put it to become top gun pilots is the Navy way. The Navy understood the importance of using the very best to train those with requisite skills in a hands-on way.

That’s how we need to train teachers. When a teacher earns the designation of “master teacher”…top gun, if you will … then those individuals should be given a three- to five-year sabbatical to train aspiring teachers who have the requisite skills to become master teachers.

Once the master teacher’s training cycle is up, then he or she should return to the classroom to keep the saw sharp. It might be that the best teachers might work through two training cycles in a career, which would help to ensure that new teachers are exposed to what really works in a classroom. 

I can’t help but believe that this approach would keep our best teachers from burning out and give our most talented undergraduates access to the best strategies and pedagogy in the profession.

I have to admit that I haven’t gotten too deeply into the weed on how this would work. My suspicion is that some kind of commitment would need to take place making sure that “top gun” teachers make the most money and always have a job to go back to when their training cycle is complete.

Likewise, colleges would have to embrace the concept that, while scholarship is important, results are what matter. 

I did notice from media reports, however, that five teacher preparation programs in Georgia received the lowest rating of no stars with a consumer alert designation … whatever that means. Those schools were Albany State, Armstrong Atlantic State, Augusta State (now known as Georgia Regents University Augusta), Columbus State and The University of West Georgia. 

Conversely, Clayton State University earned the highest rating of any Georgia program, receiving three-and-a-half stars for its graduate secondary teaching program. Mercer University's undergraduate secondary program also received a mark of three stars.

Overall, 44 different programs at 22 college and universities in Georgia were included in the report. Of those, 31 programs at 21 institutions earned two stars or less. The future is bright for Georgia’s children.  That was sarcasm in case you missed it.

Let me be clear. It is my belief that many hardworking men and women across this state are dedicating their lives to trying to make better teachers for our children. I am more convinced than ever that they are just working on the wrong stuff.

That being said, if we are going in the wrong direction, the last thing we need is to get there faster.