Sunday, September 17, 2006

Community Educator: Building a Profession, Supporting Professionals by Carol K. Ingall

Teaching is a profession that has almost no career ladder. Brand-new teachers and veterans of twenty years share the same job description. Bored teachers leave the profession, or worse, they stay, and their students are the losers. For many teachers, administration has no allure. Those who might be interested are overlooked by search committees preferring CEO types to run their schools, non-educators with backgrounds in finance and fund-raising. These skewed priorities mean that teacher education, a must for professionals as well as pre-professionals, is an afterthought, if it exists at all.

I am also concerned about our inability to keep newcomers, particularly those to Jewish day school education, in the field. I have just completed a study of three young women who had all the predictors for success in the field. (Down the Up Staircase: Tales of Teaching Jewish Day Schools [2006], JTS Press.) No one lasted longer than four years. What intervention might have made a difference in their careers?

I propose the position of Community Educator (CE) as a remedy. The CE would be a seasoned teacher blessed with the ability to reflect on the nature of teaching and skilled at “reading” a classroom, i.e., interpreting student behavior. She should be an expert in pedagogical content knowledge, an extrovert who reaches out and empathizes with the struggles of both newcomers and veterans. Her mandate would be to create a community of teachers who learn, making professional development an organic part of school culture. What might the job description entail?

  • Design of parent education programs, curricular initiatives, and co-curricular experiences for students
  • Socializing novices into the profession, the school culture (“how we do things here”), and the community, if necessary, through a multi-year course designed by the CE
  • Training mentors among the senior staff in a course of her design
  • Setting up dyads of mentors and mentees who follow a program explicitly designed for new teachers
  • Monitoring the dyads to avoid mismatches and confusion of coffee-klatsching with mentoring
  • Working with all teachers on problems that occur in their planning, teaching, or evaluation

While the CE is a full-time position, mentors and novices would receive reduced teaching loads to accommodate their teaching and learning responsibilities. As day schools insist on CEO’s instead of visionary leaders, the CE is a position that is long overdue.

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Carol K. Ingall is the Dr. Bernard Heller Professor of Jewish Education, Jewish Theological Seminary. She is the author of Maps, Metaphors, and Mirrors: Moral Education in Middle School and the recently published Down the Up Staircase – see http://tinyurl.com/rx6t9.

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