“Good teaching is hard to define, even for the profession’s most successful and reflective members.” So says a new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) that compiles highly effective teachers’ voices on issues ranging from their profession to hotbed education policy topics.
Earlier this month TNTP released the report, Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers, as a follow-up to The Irreplaceables, its 2012 study of the teacher retention crisis in America’s urban schools. Last year’s report found that creating policies and working conditions that will attract more outstanding teachers might encourage them to stay in the classroom. To build on these findings and give teachers a greater voice in education policy, TNTP surveyed top-performing teachers for “insights about their work, their profession, and the major policy issues facing their schools.”
Critically, the survey is far from a statistically representative one. As opposed to the Metlife Foundation’s classic annual Survey of the American Teacher, TNTP deliberately over-sampled “celebrated” teachers that have been recognized by their schools, school districts, and/or outside organizations as the best in the profession. In addition to their elite status, the respondents represent 36 states and the District of Columbia, 10 of the largest school districts in the country, and pre-kindergarten through twelfth-grade teachers at traditional and charter schools, and at least 80 percent serve predominantly high-poverty students.
The survey’s 117 respondents were asked to respond to 56 multiple-choice and open-ended questions. The questions spanned a variety of issues from basic information about the respondents and their schools to relevant policy issues including their views on training programs and professional development activities, thoughts and opinions on effective (and ineffective) teaching, and perspectives on standardized tests.
For one question, the teachers were asked, What does great teaching look like? Given 11 potential indicators of success and asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with each achievement as an assessment of their own teaching, the responses were far from uniform. As the report details, “Our respondents judge their success – and the success of their colleagues – in a variety of ways.”
Teachers were fairly consistent on their responses to indicators like “my students tell me they enjoy being in my class and having me as a teacher” or “my school leaders” and “other teachers whom I respect give me positive feedback on my teaching.” But the highest levels of disagreement arose from the indicator of success relating to testing, where nearly a fifth of teachers did not consider high performance on standardized tests a marker of success. In fact, respondents were split 50/50 when asked if the teachers believe that standardized tests are doing more harm than good or doing more good than harm.
Source: The New Teacher Project
The respondents were asked to share how they measure other teachers’ successes and their own views on ineffective teaching. The teachers agreed that seeing other teachers teach and knowing the outcomes of teacher’s students are the most useful measures in judging their performance. As for ineffective teaching, almost all of the respondents believed that “ineffective teaching is negatively affecting the reputation of the teaching profession.” But teachers couldn’t agree on their definitions of ineffective teaching – especially given the many other contributing factors to students’ struggles, like poverty and problems at home.
The survey also asked, How do great teachers become so effective? The respondents were asked about their experiences with training programs, professional development activities, and formal evaluations. When it came to preparation and training, the survey found that the respondents were relatively satisfied with their preparation programs – at least “on the surface.” And 83 percent of respondents said that the person who evaluates them during formal performance evaluations has helped them improve their teaching.
But the teachers were decidedly less positive when questioned more specifically about the rigor of their training programs and about the teachers who completed the programs with them. Forty percent of respondents did not find ongoing professional development activities particularly helpful; moreover, over 40 percent felt their pre-service teacher preparation programs were insufficient, echoing the results of a separate TNTP study that rated teacher education programs.
Finally, TNTP asked, What do great teachers think about their profession? As it turns out, for most of them, there is not enough they like to tolerate the things they don’t. Ninety-one percent of the respondents answered that they are either satisfied or very satisfied with teaching as a career. But frighteningly, 60 percent of respondents said they might leave the profession within five years. In analyzing the results of the survey, TNTP saw that the “respondents have a distinct love/hate relationship” with the profession. The teachers love working with students and seeing them succeed academically – but they hate the low pay, working conditions, heavy workloads, and tight time constraints, and their feelings of isolation in their classrooms.
The results of this report are stark: Our nation’s best teachers do not feel like their preparation programs were rigorous enough or their professional development activities are worthwhile, and they disdain the bureaucracy that has entrenched the profession– so much so that more than half of the respondents might stop teaching within the next five years. At the current juncture of the education policy debate, there is no better time for policymakers to listen to teachers’ concerns to inform their decision-making.