International Leaders, Unions Discuss Teacher Preparation

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The second annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession, which brings together education ministers, union leaders and teachers from 23 high-performing countries, was held in New York City, March 14-15. This year's gathering, which was co-hosted by the AFT, gave participants an opportunity to share common challenges and best practices for training and supporting teachers and schools leaders.

"Since the quality of teaching is at the heart of student learning outcomes, it is an appealing idea to bring together education leaders from high-performing and rapidly improving education systems to explore to what extent educational success and some of the policies related to success transcend the specific characteristics of cultures and countries," says a background paper prepared for the summit by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, "Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century."

A focal point of the gathering, not surprisingly, was the importance of collaboration and collective responsibility in ensuring that every student has access to a well-prepared, high-quality teacher. "No education system can be any better than the quality of its teachers," said summit facilitator and Center for Strategic Education executive director Tony Mackay.

"We need to move beyond the bureaucratic type of leadership that we've had in the past and involve teachers, parents and other stakeholders in improving education and attracting new teachers into the profession," Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, told a summit press conference.

In most high-performing countries, AFT president Randi Weingarten said, teachers are well-trained and well-supported, are allowed to exercise their professional judgment, and are given the opportunity to teach students how to analyze and problem-solve—and not just how to take tests.

Weingarten also noted that most of these countries cover the college tuition of those pursuing degrees in teaching, which is both an incentive to pursue a career in teaching and helps ensure that these individuals don't graduate from college with a mountain of debt.

One of the most important aspects of teaching "is the relationship and trust between the teacher and the learner," said 2007 New York State Teacher of the Year Marguerite Izzo, who went on to say that she's a firm supporter of "mentoring programs that allow for new teachers to observe and learn from" experienced teachers.

If we are to attract and retain the top teachers, we first need to stop demonizing educators, Weingarten said. "We can't build a profession at the same time that we are tearing it apart with shame and blame."

Convened by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Education International, the summit provided "thoughtful insight on effective ways to prepare and develop skilled teachers and schools leaders, reaffirming the critical role they play in successfully implementing systematic reform," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. [Roger Glass]

March 23, 2012