Reaching the Summit of Teaching is a Challenge

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel stressed the need to boost teacher recruitment and training, and to use multiple measures in evaluating teachers, during a panel discussion Monday held in conjunction with the second annual Education Nation Summit in New York City.

At the week-long event which started Sunday, parents, educators and students are meeting with leaders in politics, business, philanthropy, and technology. This year’s lineup of panels includes sessions on teaching and testing, the brain science behind early learning, and the value of higher education in today’s economy.

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“We don’t really recruit teachers,” Van Roekel told moderator Ann Curry, with NBC News, the event sponsor. “We wait to see who will show up.”

Roekel appeared on a panel session titled, Window on Great Teaching. When Curry asked what it takes to create great teachers, Van Roekel explained the importance of teaching “as a profession with relevant, clinically-based” training standards and involving the recruitment of educators from among the best and brightest.

“We need quality at the front door,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should walk into a classroom without (proper training).”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp also participated in the discussion, though were not on stage at the same time with Curry.

“We can’t do enough to shine a light on great teaching,” Duncan said.

Who is to say what that is? How should teachers be evaluated, asked Curry.

“Multiple measures,” Van Roekel responded. “I think student input is essential. Observation by peers is essential. Some of the best evaluation you are going to get is from your peers.”

Sound lesson planning and effective interaction with students were also mentioned. And leadership, which “will never be shown on a test score,” Van Roekel added.

Kopp said a classroom leader is like a leader in any profession.

“They are people who step back . . . and reflect,” she said. “They establish a vision, then they get their kids on a mission on how they are going to get there.”

The event took place in front of a large studio audience and was streamed live on MSNBC. The mid-morning session featured live video segments from several classrooms around the country. Audience members had the opportunity to go live into these classrooms via satellite and interact with students and teachers, including two NEA members: Tracy Staley of the Florida Education Association (FEA), and Keil Hileman, Kansas National Education Association (KNEA).

Hileman trumpeted the use of hands-on learning among his history students at Monticello Trails Middle School in Shawnee. Viewers watched as students in one of Hileman’s classes could barely contain themselves as they worked at custom “dig tables,” which simulated a pre-historic archeological dig site complete with multiple tools and real artifacts.

“The number one way a school can support kids is resources and time,” said Hileman, a member of the De Soto Teacher Association. “We’re all on a trail — learning together.”

Staley was featured on the program along with her fifth-grade science class at Ponce de Leon Elementary School in Clearwater. She explained the joy of helping students recognize their natural curiosity as a means to gain knowledge.

“It’s very motivating to see someone actually learn,” said Staley, Pinellas County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for the 2011 Florida Teacher of the Year. “They love exploring. They have a blast while doing it.”

While studying potential and kinetic energy, Staley’s students were visibly excited on screen as they tested roller-coasters made with marbles and plastic track which they had designed. Staley told the audience that in addition to problem-solving, students learn about teamwork, which in a larger sense includes parents.

“I can do amazing things at school,” Staley pointed out, “but parents need to take them to the amusement park and see a roller-coaster. “

Parental involvement is “absolutely critical,” she added.

NEA is involved in several aspects of the summit. Read Van Roekel’s Education Nation blog post on teacher quality.