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Building Better Teachers
Building Better Teachers

AIR DATE: June 15, 2010

Are great teachers born? Or made? Research says teacher development should be at the forefront of policymaker's minds, but, current standards are often episodic and ineffective. So how do teachers keep up with the latest methods and practices?

We continue our summer series on education in the Clark County School District with a look at building a better teacher. The head of Clark County School District's Teacher Induction and Mentoring program joins us to discuss what the district is doing. We also talk with an expert from Stanford University who says this topic is a rapid growing concern among educators.

School is out in Clark County so teachers we want to hear from you. What are you doing to keep up with the latest methods and practices? Are you getting the kind of professional development you need in the district? What are the challenges you face as a teacher? Post your comments below.

Sandy Dean, Dir, Natl Board Resource Ctr, Stanford U
Annie Amoia, Dir, Teacher Induction and Mentoring, CCSD
Bill Garis, Deputy HR Dir, CCSD
Jane Kier, Coordintor of Student Teaching and the 21st Century Teacher Prep Program Partnership between UNLV and the CCSD

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The problem with CCSD is apathy and bad practices. CCSD & each building administrator selects a group of people better known as strategists, interventionists, or pets to run the school. Some interventionists/strategists/pets are new. They act like they know everything about teaching. They set the school agenda and tell teachers how and when to teach each subject. They are the authority. Teachers are treated like they are stupid and obsolete. Teachers are not allowed to make suggestions or contribute ideas toward educating own students. Teachers are made to teach a scripted lesson at the same time each day. Teachers are treated like mindless drones. When asked to help write the school improvement plans by admins, teachers don't participate. They know that at the end of the day, their opinions don't count. Miraculously, only admins and their pets' ideas & teaching methods end up in the school improvement plans. When this happens, teachers shut down and become apathetic. Stop this insane practice! Have faith & trust in teachers. They have a degree. Let them teach!
NoniJun 13, 2010 01:12:14 AM
re. Tom's comments: In their frantic, politically correct march to find what *might* work, most people here have failed to simply observe what *has* worked. Noting that, I would observe that whatever we were doing in the 1950's and 60's produced the best engineers and scientists in the world. A perfect example is teaching kids their multiplication tables by rote -- this is how the rest of the world gets the job done -- and they do it in about 6 weeks. We struggle for 9 years and still fail to teach this basic skill (and then wonder why kids can't pass the math proficiency exam. When I suggested this method to one of the superintendents I was told this "Yes, that's how I learned them when I was going to school -- but, now we know there are better ways to teach this skill." --- And where is the proof of that statement?
Robert L BurkhartJun 11, 2010 18:56:41 PM
Do other government employees have to take classes to make a decent raise?
MelissaJun 10, 2010 20:47:32 PM
Hi! I'm Melissa, an art teacher in Las Vegas. One afternoon I went to observe a veteran art teacher who had been featured in a Harry Wong article. I learned so much in that short amount of time that changed my teaching forever. I've learned more from interacting with experienced art teachers and than anything I learned in school.
MelissaJun 10, 2010 20:42:06 PM
Part 5 of 5 (mis-counted) At yet another school, after teaching an evening math class (3 hours, young adults) consisting of 20 students, I was approached by 5 students and told We learned more from you this evening than we have from our regular teacher all year -- They must have told the teacher the same thing the next day, as that school then placed me on their Do Not Use list. No good deed goes unpunished. The other teacher did nothing except teach the kids how to use a calculator. If that is true, the class shouldnt be called Math  it should be called How to use a calculator. I received training (Mandt training) and worked extensively in the field of Special Education in the State of Virginia. What the CCSD does wrong in this area could fill volumes. Dont get me wrong. the CCSD has many fine teachers, but it also has quite a few teachers who should be given their walking papers. I intend to file a declaration of candidacy for the CCSD trustee position, representing District A, when it becomes vacant in 2012. As a guest teacher my complaints were ignored. Hopefully, as a trustee I can encourage change.
Robert L BurkhartJun 10, 2010 16:43:17 PM
Part 4 of 4 At yet another school, after teaching an evening math class (3 hours, young adults) consisting of 20 students, I was approached by 5 students and told We learned more from you this evening than we have from our regular teacher all year -- They must have told the teacher the same thing the next day, as that school then placed me on their Do Not Use list. No good deed goes unpunished. The other teacher did nothing except teach the kids how to use a calculator. If that is true, the class shouldnt be called Math  it should be called How to use a calculator.
Robert L BurkhartJun 10, 2010 16:41:36 PM
Part 3 of 4 At another school I found that the school had, by design, placed all of the zone kids in teams (starting in the 6th grade)  these teams stayed together throughout the day (and throughout all three years of middle school). I confirmed this after subbing 3 days, in 3 different subjects, for 3 different teachers. Each class was worse than the one before. Why? Because, this team approach, while making job of class placement easier on school administrators, provided absolutely no diversity. The class clown in one class became the class clown in all classes. When I first mentioned this to the dean I was told that it was a teacher problem the teacher simply couldnt control his/her students. When I mentioned it again, the next day, I was told that these were bad kids. That would be close to 180 bad kids. Bad teachers? Bad kids? Or, perhaps, it was a poor decision, vis-à-vis class placement, made by school administrators. When I brought this problem to the school principal I was told  Now that I knew which classes these kids took, I should simply avoid jobs for these teachers. Not exactly a proactive approach to problem solving.
Robert L BurkhartJun 10, 2010 16:40:19 PM
Part 2 of 4 For example, at one school, where I was teaching 3rd grade (with only two weeks left in the school year) I noticed that, of the 18 students in this particular class, only 2 knew their multiplication tables. Why? Because the teacher decided that playing a Video (The Multiplication Rap) one hour a day was her only responsibility in terms of teaching Math. Every kid in that class knew the song word for word (rote teaching does that)  but, when the video was finished, if asked, What is 6 times 7 one was met with total silence, or a student would sing the song until he got to the verse that contained the necessary information. That is not teaching. Of course, the note was not well received; honesty is not always welcome.
Robert L BurkhartJun 10, 2010 16:39:20 PM
Part 1 of 4 I was fired, as a Guest Teacher, by the CCSD in February of this year, after teaching for close to six years. On the day of that dismissal I was told that I failed to appreciate the fact that I was a Guest at the various schools at which I taught. How? Why? -- Because, when I found serious problems at various schools that were being ignored, I did not further ignore the problem, and quietly slip away (as would have been the polite (and approved) policy  but, instead, would often write a letter to the appropriate District Superintendent  or, speak with the principal of the school, or leave a note with the teacher for whom I was subbing.
Robert L BurkhartJun 10, 2010 16:38:28 PM
I just spent three hours of valuable post-planning time in a professional development training for our new math curriculum. About half of this seminar harped on the the digital component of the curriculum. I don't have a smart board, an LCD projector or a sound system. I DO have a dusty old overhead projector and a chalk board. The few computers in my classroom are junk. As mandated by our state, the state had to purchase this new math curriculum. Did math change? How can teach algebra to children who can't add and subtract fractions? We need to simplify the cause of education! I could have used this three hours reviewing materials on my own and developing a plan that is attainable with the equipment I KNOW I have available. Now I will be stuck with materials that I can't use and other materials that don't suit my students' needs.
C. MurphyJun 10, 2010 13:40:00 PM
In their frantic, politically correct march to find what *might* work, most people here have failed to simply observe what *has* worked. Noting that, I would observe that whatever we were doing in the 1950's and 60's produced the best engineers and scientists in the world. Administrators and teachers should forget about the educational pedagogy crap and get back to teaching basics, having high academic standards, and enforcing classroom discipline if they want similar results. It's that simple!

As for continuing ed for teachers, I would suggest that the school district just hire competent people to begin with (I thought that's what a college degree indicated) and instead spend all of the "professional development" money on actual teaching, etc. Taxpayers should not be paying to further educate someone who presumably was hired because they could, in fact, do the job they were hired for at the time they were hired.

TomJun 10, 2010 13:26:55 PM
I agree with CMurphy. Time is the greatest learning tool we have as teachers. Our students need time to engage and immerse in good instructional practices, and we as teachers need time to develop, reflect, and revise those practices.
CBergJun 10, 2010 10:24:15 AM
Your guests this morning (particularly the Stanford professor) emphasized the need the individualized learning plans for every student to be an effective teacher. I agree 100%; however, I would like to see her address each need when teachers are assigned 216 students as I was this year at a Clark County high school. 24 hour days aren't long enough for that kind of work load. Maybe she has done something similar in her professional career and can share her strategies (and when she might sleep).
dianaJun 10, 2010 10:06:58 AM
It is so very hard to teach every child in the class room, when there is the blending so far across the 'skill level' spectrum in each classroom. We are obsessed with blending the classroom- high level kids in the same room with low level kids... But what happens in reality is high level kids become defacto tutors of lower level kids. Ok, kids may well learn better from other kids-- does that mean that their higher capability is not nurtured?? Instead, they do the same thing over and over with the lower level kids...

Or - and the truth is - more of the lower level kids feel like everything is moving too fast, to ask for help reveals their inability, and to avoid it they will become a discipline problem.

Second language learners just clam up and say nothing at all.

I want to be the best teacher I can for the child that walks into my classroom, but we are schitzoid about balancing the 'kid in the room' with the 'test at the end' that determines whether we have 'made AYP' (Adequate Yearly Progress) within the parameters of the high stakes testing.

Melody [via email]Jun 10, 2010 10:04:51 AM
Shouldn't we empower the teachers to deal with problem students who disrupt the learning experience. Some teachers here in Pahrump have communicated this to me. I am not a teacher.

Many of them end up in the adult education program which adds cost to the school budget.

Michael [via email]Jun 10, 2010 10:02:03 AM
Part of what makes a great teacher is something a person is born with-- a desire to teach. However, becoming a good teacher means you do keep fresh- research, lesson design, etc.

CCSD-- and the state of Nevada, are stuck in a loop of 'latest bandwagon' behavior. Someone, and I don't know whom, is picking the 'latest thing' for all of us to follow-- then before we can see a real data-developed basis of success or failure, there comes a new "thing" to follow, and off we go, changing our focus in the new direction.

I have participated in some of the best training through developmental coursework and seminars brought in-- I got fabulous material from Abydos, Top 20 training... And went back to school thrilled with this new material, only to be told by my admin..."No, do it 'this way'. Incorporating this 'new thing' is out of sync with our program." Or... Which I find so demeaning..."If you can squeeze it in past OUR design."

Melody [via email]Jun 10, 2010 10:00:38 AM
I would have LOVED to have worked with a master teacher for one year in the early childhood autism classroom! I completed my student teaching in a resource room, which is completely different, so having someone at my elementary school who knew what I was really supposed to be doing would have been extremely helpful.
ShannonJun 10, 2010 09:38:49 AM
I teach preschool students with autism, which requires endorsements in early childhood special education and autism. CCSD paid for my master's degree (with both endorsements) at UNLV in exchange for 3 years of teaching, and has reimbursed me for taking online PBS courses for graduate credit. While there are limited resources with which to provide professional development to all teachers during work hours, CCSD offers many other opportunities for teachers who want to further their education.
ShannonJun 10, 2010 09:07:24 AM
Often times, the time truly set aside for professional development is a waste of time. Too much time is spent on "team building" during staff development, than on actual issues. One idea to save the district away with staff development days...My professional development comes from my own endeavors. I sign up for classes in my own free time, I converse with colleagues (from around the district) to get a glimpse of their best practices, and I get valuable resources from my masters' program.
RhondaJun 9, 2010 17:05:30 PM
For some time, "Professional Development" consists of documenting student progress or lack of progress. This seems to be more about litigation than literacy. If I redirected the time I spend documenting and testing students to providing one-on-one instruction, I think it would make a tremendous difference. Overall, the latest research is pushing documentation, testing, remediating. TIME is the best intervention. Give me a book and a kid and TIME and I can teach them many things. Other factors in student success: parent support, community support and teacher/student ratio.
C. MurphyJun 9, 2010 16:50:30 PM
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