How Should We Support New Teachers? Arne Duncan Hears From NEA-Student Members

How can this nation do a better job of attracting, supporting, and learning from great teachers? U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan really wants the answer to that question—the country really needs the answer to that question, he said—and he got it on Monday from a group of NEA-Student members.

These future teachers were frank: They want to be respected for their choice to serve students, schools, and communities, they said. And they want to be better supported as they make the transition from student to teacher.

NEA student members meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan (far right) at the Department of Education. Photo: Mary Ellen Flannery

“I just ended my master’s program,” Virginia Vogelman, a graduate of New Jersey’s Montclair State University, told Duncan. “And now I am finding that my union is the only place I can get help in transitioning from college to the classroom. And they’re offering experienced educators as trainers, which is so important. The only way we’re going to get high-quality teachers is if we have educators leading educators.”

“That unions are stepping up is phenomenal. Districts and unions need to do it together,” Duncan said. “What do you think we spend on professional development each year? $2.5 billion. But when I say that to teachers they usually laugh or cry. They are not feeling it. We have to do better with professional development money.”

The conversation between Duncan and the NEA-Student members was the latest in a yearlong series of U.S. Department of Education-hosted “forums,” where small groups of students have helped to inform federal education policy and guidelines. Among the attendees were newly elected NEA-Student chair David Tjaden of Iowa and outgoing chair Tommie Leaders of Nebraska, as well as: Daniel Hendrix and Brittany Jones of Virginia; Krista Scanlan, KeShanda Golden, and Mercedes Barbosa of Maryland; Christopher Graham of North Carolina; Caryce Gilmore of Tennessee; and Vogelman.

Teacher education was a hot topic, of course. Maybe future teachers don’t need so much theory, Duncan proposed. Maybe they need more information about “how to engage with their students,” said North Carolina’s Chris Graham. “A lot of those challenges in the first three years (of teaching) could be alleviated if we just knew how to engage with students,” he said.

“There are some fantastic schools of education,” Duncan said. “There are some in the middle and there are some that are poor. We are pushing hard to get them to change, but I’d give us a C-minus. We haven’t moved stuff.”

How can the Department encourage true collaboration between school districts and colleges of education—that’s the real solution, and it doesn’t always happen, countered Caryce Gilmore. “There’s a county in Tennessee that wanted to stop taking student teachers altogether,” she told him. Duncan guffawed. “I was desperate to get student teachers in Chicago! That’s your talent pool!”

Duncan likes the idea of “residencies” for new teachers—yearlong, classroom-based programs that pair rookies with veterans, in the manner of medical hospital-based residency programs—and so does NEA. In its three-point “Leading the Profession” plan to improve the teaching profession, NEA has advocated for every future teacher to participate in a full year of residency under the supervision of a master teacher, and also undergo a rigorous classroom-based performance assessment at the end of his or her candidacy.

While the students offered answers, they had just as many questions for Duncan, and challenged him to explain current Department thinking around minority teacher recruitment, education funding, Race to the Top, charter schools, and more. “When you talk about charters and innovation, isn’t that the stuff we want to bring to regular public school classrooms?” asked Virginia’s Daniel Hendrix.

“This isn’t about charter vs. district. It’s education success vs. education failure,” Duncan said.

But they found agreement around the necessary role of educators in policy discussions. “We have so many great teachers, but we haven’t listened. And teachers are so nice they haven’t demanded a seat at the policy table… . Stay in the classroom, but speak—and speak together. People will have to listen,” he told them.

  • If it weren’t so sad to see the way Arne Duncan sidesteps real educational issues, it would be hilarious. He wants talented new teachers, yet he drives out experienced teachers and laments the growing numbers of baby boomers he is helping boot out the door. He likes an intern-mentor relationship, yet provides no ideas for implementing one. He is highly critical of most teacher colleges, which is to say that he looks down on teachers who graduated from them. Succinctly, this is an indictment of all experienced teachers. The man is a complete fraud. Perhaps if his father had allowed television in his household he would have learned a few lessons about the modern world. Instead, we as a nation have to rely on this mans fantastical vision of what education should be in his perfectly pristine and remote universe.

  • Rog

    Arne Duncan has to be the worst and most incompetent cabinet member since Reagan’s James Watt.

  • Dan

    Not that I don’t think that your comments might be valid, but what is the point in complaining about what someone else says. If you have better ideas on how to build our profession then please share them, but complaining seems to me only a waist of time. So many people spend so much time complaining about things instead of actually going out and changing them. Don’t tell me what’s wrong, tell me how your going to fix it.

  • Benjamin

    I respectfully disagree with the Steve and Rog. Arne Duncan has shown a real dedication to changing the teaching profession in a positive way. I am glad he is critical of teacher education programs that are how things get changed! I am in teacher preparation program (a pretty damn good one!) and the light he has shined on issues has led to the college to look at ways to improve. Steve please read the RESPECT document! Arne Duncan’s Department has done an outstanding job of outlining what a mentoring process could look like. The best thing about the document is many of the ideas in the document were constructed by teachers and other stakeholders becoming involved in the conversation. Dan much respect, let’s start talking about how we are going to fix our problems!

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