Van Roekel Announces Plan to Strengthen Teaching Profession
By Tim Walker
National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis Van Roekel today laid out a new action agenda for the nation’s largest organization of educators that will help transform the teaching profession and accelerate student learning.
Speaking at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, D.C., Van Roekel detailed three major strategies that will guide the NEA’s efforts. The net effect of these initiatives will be to increase the quality of teacher candidates, make sure that teachers remain at the top of their game throughout their careers, and to improve student learning by helping educators become leaders in their schools.
“NEA aims to ensure that every student has a qualified, caring and effective teacher,” Van Roekel said. “We will support a stronger profession of teaching and I will put the full weight of our national organization behind this effort.”
The action plan incorporates proven best practices from thousands of leading teachers from around the country, and input from the independent Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching.
“This agenda takes up some key recommendations of the commission and addresses long-neglected problems that have inhibited effective teaching,” said Maddie Fennell, the chairperson of the Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching, and a fourth-grade teacher at Miller Park Elementary in Omaha, Neb. “It’s a crucial step toward more effective teaching and student learning and encouraging the union to meet those needs.”
The first pillar of the plan is to ensure that all teachers are rigorously prepared for the challenges of the classroom. Van Roekel said it was critical to raise teacher standards both at the postsecondary-admissions and preservice stages.
“In order to prepare the coming generations of students, all teachers must be effective—period.”
Specifically, Van Roekel said every teaching candidate should complete a one-year residency under the supervision of a Master Teacher before earning a full license and pass a rigorous classroom-based performance assessment at the end of his or her candidacy.
Ensuring only qualified teachers enter the classroom is only the first step. Learning how to teach, after all, does not stop when the teaching career begins. The profession must therefore focus on supporting teachers, providing them with career options and helping teachers improve throughout their careers.
To that end, Van Roekel announced that NEA will advocate for a new career path that has different compensation and responsibilities for Novice, Professional, and Master Teachers. Just as junior and senior members of any profession are given differing sets of responsibilities, Van Roekel said, it makes sense, for example, for more advanced teachers to take on the challenges of the most difficult-to-serve students.
On the complex topic of teacher evaluations, Van Roekel announced that NEA will work with willing state and local affiliates to establish at least 100 new Peer Assistance and Peer Assistance and Review programs (PAR) over the next three years. Some affiliates have long-established PAR programs, including Columbus, Ohio, and Montgomery County, Maryland. These programs include structured mentorship, observation, and rigorous standards-based evaluation of teachers designed to develop great teachers.
Finally, Van Roekel said educators must have a “seat at the table” because transforming the nation’s schools depends on their strong voice and leadership.
“Many local NEA affiliates are helping teachers and schools improve their performance – and raise student achievement – because teachers are taking responsibility for improving instruction, curriculum, and school performance. When great teachers become great leaders, students reap the benefits,” Van Roekel said.
NEA will deploy its own national network to train 1,000 accomplished teachers for leadership roles and train educators from all 50 states in educational leadership based on the innovative curriculum being developed by the NEA Foundation’s Institute on Innovation in Teaching and Learning.
“I am committing NEA’s strength and resources to making all these changes,” said Van Roekel. “Five years from now, we want people to look at NEA as a major catalyst for bringing about the kind of education all Americans want, all teachers can deliver, and all children deserve.”
photo by Gary Dwight Miller/NEA
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