3 Things We Must Admit (and Do) If We’re Serious About Improving Teaching Quality


By Claudia Felske

What prompted such self-indulgent reflection?

What led me to actually create a pie chart about myself!?

The other day, I read a tweet asking for input on accreditation of Teacher Education programs. In it’s “commitment to transparency and public accountability,” the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is “seeking public comment” on their standards for teacher education programs.

“Okay,” I thought, “I have a few things to say about this.”

I took the bait, clicked on their link, and after spending 30 minutes on a labyrinth of online questioning, I had the desire to chuck the shackles of the survey and go rogue, putting in my own words my own thoughts on this topic, an open letter to the CAEP, so here it is:

3 Things We Must Admit (and Do) if we’re Serious about Improving Teacher Quality:

1. We have to admit the Intangibles: Measuring the quality of new teachers based on their Teacher Ed program is fraudulent. (See my self-indulgent pie chart above.) Basing this conclusion on no one else but me (in my defense, I’m the most honest case study available to me), I attempted to quantify  the factors that constitute who I am as an educator.

In good conscience, I can only track about 5% of my expertise to my Teacher Preparation classes. Another 20% to my formal education in general k-12, B.A. M.A.+.  Most of who I am as an educator comes from intangibles: 50% goes to my upbringing, Mom and Dad. It was being raised with high expectations, curiosity, desire to succeed, and an intolerance for mediocrity. I’ll attribute the last 25% to my passion for my subject area (language arts) and my desire to see students succeed. What I realize is that my highly-unscientific self examination undermines the premise of the CAEP Teacher Education Evaluation process. Judging teacher quality based on teacher preparation classes measures 5% of the educator and ignores the other 95%, the all-important intangibles.

2.  We have to attract the Intangibles: If you accept my premise that the most important teacher qualities are the intangibles, then our priority becomes clear: to somehow attract those intangibles into the field of education. To get excellent educators, start with the best ingredients.

We need to attract those with a crush on excellence, an unflappable determination to make a difference, a curiosity bent on incessant improvement. In other words, seek and retain top-notch candidates – the ones that are also highly sought by industry and business. And to compete, we need to pay them an attractive salary (college debt forgiveness makes great sense here too). We need to respect educators, giving them the dignity that befits those who are nurturing the next generation. We need to treat teaching as an art that requires years of practice to achieve an ever-changing “mastery.” A high art, a higher calling, a life well spent.

3. We need to nurture the Intangibles. Once we attract the best and brightest, we need to help them evolve into master educators with an authentic apprenticeship program. We need to identify master teachers currently in the field (National Board Certified teachers, for starters), and then leverage their expertise in an intensive mentor role, allowing new teachers to incrementally evolve into their practice over the course of 2-3 sustained years of intense training under the tutelage of a master teacher.

If we were serious about creating a critical mass of master teachers and making serious improvements in teaching and learning, we’d invest in and insist on such a structure.

  • Admit the intangibles.
  • Attract the intangibles.
  • Nurture the intangibles.

These are not easy concepts to quantify, these are not easy steps to take, but the conclusion of this self-indulgent, case-study-of-one teacher/researcher is that acknowledging and nurturing “the intangibles” would be a far more authentic and productive path to sustained teacher improvement than what’s currently being discussed.

And until such steps are taken, aren’t we all kind of fibbing here? Pretending that we can fatten the pig by weighing it?

3 Responses to “3 Things We Must Admit (and Do) If We’re Serious About Improving Teaching Quality”

  1. 1 Ron Schroll April 3, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Pay for results not just for showing up. Create tiers of teacher expertise based on those results. Because businesses benefit from the output of schools they should have more say in what and how educators teach. Representatives from businesses should be on school boards and on curriculum committees. Businesses could provide feedback and maybe even rewards to the teachers and schools with the best results. Consider a system that allows graduates to evaluate the quality of their education and their instructors. Tie monetary rewards to the schools and teachers with the best outcomes.


    • 2 A. Reynolds April 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

      I couldn’t disagree more. Any time I hear someone talking about approaching education like a business, I know the person talking is not credible. How would you isolate which teacher is responsible for a child’s performance on any given standardized test? What about the fact that standardized testing doesn’t occur every year in every state? What about the fact that the most successful education systems in the world do not do most of what we propose in the name of ‘reform’, and they certainly don’t treat education like a business? Where will the money come from to fund these ‘monetary rewards’, when school districts are already strapped? Is anyone proposing tying physicians’ pay to patient outcomes? Police officer pay to crime statistics?

      Graduates do evaluate their instructors and the quality of their education. As for tying monetary rewards to outcomes, see: Atlanta. This would also absolutely discourage good teachers from teaching in troubled or failing schools, which is the opposite of what you need to have happen in order to turn those districts around. I’m sure it would be merely coincidental that teachers working in wealthy districts would collect monetary rewards, while teachers in low-income areas would be fired every other year.


  2. 3 A. Reynolds April 5, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Actually, I forgot that we are trying to tie physician’s pay to patient outcomes. Now if we could just line up teacher and doctor salaries, so that you attract the same candidates…


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