In schools statewide, instructional assistants are the backbone of programs for English language learners. Usually native speakers of other languages (most often Spanish), these assistants work closely with students to improve in every subject area, from reading to math and science, and the assistants report they are deeply committed to their students and their communities. They also don’t earn much—the starting salary for an instructional assistant in Salem-Keizer is $20,983, compared with $37,320 for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees.
Many instructional assistants would jump at the chance of becoming teachers if they had the means and support to advance their careers. Portland State University’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway program is an excellent model that is turning instructional assistants into teachers. The Oregon Education Investment Board and Department of Education are also working on initiatives designed to develop career pathways and accelerate the time it takes to make the move from instructional assistant to teacher.
As part of this effort, we also must do more to support to aspiring teachers taking the state licensing exams, which can pose a significant hurdle for non-native speakers.
Maribel Peña’s story is a case in point. A Mexico City native, she studied law at the University of Mexico before moving to Oregon over a decade ago. She attended Chemeketa Community College and was hired in 2004 as an elementary school instructional aide in Salem Keizer. She currently works at Cesar Chavez Elementary. From the start, she was able to make strong connections with her students as well as their families. “I share my own experiences with them,” she says, “and that helps me be an influence.”
She works mainly with students who are native Spanish speakers, some of whom have had such limited schooling they are illiterate in both Spanish or English. Anyone who saw her in action would say she has everything it takes to be an outstanding teacher.
Peña earned top grades in PSU’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway Program, as well as an endorsement as a teacher of English for speakers of other languages. But despite studying and extra tutoring, she has struggled to pass the licensing exams.
Although her own English language skills are excellent, she had to re-read questions several times and encountered questions and vocabulary that, as a non-native speaker she found tricky to comprehend. Combine that with the pressure of taking a timed test, and you see how much of a challenge lies before prospective bilingual teachers.
“I feel I have earned my own classroom,” she says. “I am more than qualified to be a teacher.” She plans to take the test again. “I want to make a change in my school and my community,” she says. “I want to impact lives.”
Chalkboard’s TeachOregon initiative is working with school districts and colleges and universities to attract more students of color to teacher preparation programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. We have some new programs that start even earlier. The Pro-Team and Teacher Cadet programs being piloted in Salem-Keizer schools gets students interested in teaching careers as early as middle and high school. The High Desert ESD offers college credit to high school students of color who work as summer school interns.
Some of these programs will take time to produce results. However, a ready source of bilingual/bicultural teachers remains to be tapped—instructional assistants already working in classrooms in Oregon. Critical supports for the successful licensing of these potential teachers should be investigated, and then installed, to empower diverse teacher candidates, thus creating a brighter future for Oregon schools.
When I began teaching in 2004, I was what could be called a “generational outlier”. At 23, I distinguished myself as one of the school’s few teachers who belonged to the Millenial generation. I listened to Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, and I was an early adopter of text messaging and Twitter. And as a professional, I was constantly looking for validation from my peers as well as the administration. During seven years of teaching, the generational differences between my minority Millenial ideals and the majority Baby Boomer leadership often presented themselves. Initiatives were top down, administration and teachers worked across the aisle, and getting the job done was a greater priority than celebrating success. I accepted these work settings despite the fact I didn’t always agree. When I went into administration I knew I would lead differently.
In 2011, Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) represented nearly 50 percent of the teaching workforce. In the next five to ten years, a majority of this population is expected retire and be replaced by Millenials (born 1981 to 2004). The stark contrasts between these groups create a cultural divide. The former have a reputation for being task oriented, competitive, they prefer clear direction, and have a hard time adjusting to changes in the workplace. The latter tend to value flexibility, need constant validation and feedback, value working in teams, and have only known a technologically advanced world. Bridging this cultural divide presents significant challenges to school leaders.
Principals at our schools must find a way to lead, inspire, and work with both subgroups. Many leaders in different industries have already begun the process of implementing different methods of inspiring this new generation. In the world of athletics, coaches have opted to nurture relationships with players rather than imposing their authoritarian will on players. University of Oregon football coach Mark Helfrich made headlines last fall when he shared that yelling at players was against the program’s philosophy.
Shifting the leadership approach in public education poses a great challenge to leaders. The components of the school system are complex and the margin for error is great. Leaders can start by blending a style that acknowledges those Baby Boomers who are accustomed to a certain style leadership—task centered and reluctant to change—while grooming the landscape for an influx of new talent that isn’t attached to any form of leadership, but intrinsically want feedback, collaboration, and relevance.
In my building, our blended leadership approach encourages active participation, urges openness for change, and celebrates traditions that work. The challenge is in finding the sweet spot. Leaders must earn buy-in from more-accomplished veterans who think differently about teaching, instruction, and education without being dismissive of their values. Baby Boomers will ultimately be responsible for passing the proverbial torch to a new generation of educators. But good leadership should recognize this transition, and begin now to construct the foundations that bridge the gap between these differing generations.
Mark Helfrich on Not Yelling
Getting Smart: Making the most of Millenial Teachers’ Mindset
Millenial Characteristics: Indiana University
Marsha Moyer is currently a trainer and project coach for Chalkboard Project, after a 24-year-plus career as a teacher, and administrator in various states, and has spent the majority of her career at the Salem-Keizer School District before her retirement.
I’ve often said, whenever I get finished doing what I’m doing as far as my professional development work, I’m going to go back into the classroom, and I’m going to teach. And after I retired, I renewed my teaching license because I believe there’s nothing greater than teaching.
But years ago, being young in my teaching career, having a family, just getting started, and looking at pay—if I wanted to do better, and afford myself a better life, I had to take my skills and talents, leave the classroom, and go into administration. And that is what I did, and what many of my teaching colleagues did because it was the only education career pathway that was open to us.
At the time we believed if you were a great teacher, and you wanted to do more and create an impact, the only way to do that was to leave the classroom, and go into administration.
What I would like people to understand is that many teachers were often filling leadership roles working outside of the classroom, just as we have today. A school cannot be successful if its teachers merely show up, go into their classrooms, teach, and leave. There are many components of extra duties and contributing factors that a teacher contributes to make a school successful. We just didn’t call it district leadership, or shared leadership, and they weren’t paid for it.
As we move from the traditional model, our values are starting to shift and we’ve got to look at doing things differently. CLASS’s creation of new career pathways and leadership opportunities that are associated with additional compensation has always resonated with me—it made so much sense. Because we have great people who really want to be touching the lives of children and families everyday, but still want to make sure that their children can go to college, and have the funds to do it.
When I retired from the Salem-Keizer School District, I told myself that as long as I have good energy, I would teach again. I love being able to mold minds, and remove barriers, because my career has taught me that a teacher not only impacts a child in the moment, but impacts generations. A teacher can possibly take a child out of generational poverty just by opening a doorway. Oregon’s teaching workforce should be empowered to embrace both new leadership roles and the classroom experience, with the full support and compensation it deserves.
Iton Udosenata, principal of Cottage Grove High School, was raised in north Eugene, Oregon and earned his Masters in Education from the University of Oregon. After teaching in South Central Los Angeles for two years, Iton returned to Oregon to teach and then chose a path of leadership as a vice-principal, and later as a principal. His personal interests and education have revolved around teaching social justice and equity issues. Iton serves on the Distinguished Leaders Council, which recently published, School Leadership in Oregon: A Framework For Action.
As part of Black History Month, Iton (who is Nigerian/Mexican-American) touched on the topic of whether educators should use current events, such as the recent shooting tragedies involving young black men, to teach in the classroom.
Race and themes of social justice are very relevant in 2015. Sometimes the face of injustice resembles the narratives of the civil rights era and sometimes it morphs into a new strand that older and younger generations alike are trying to make sense of. As educators we struggle to address these issues for a plethora of reasons. Conversations of race can be awkward, uncomfortable, and caustic. For white educators there is always the fear of coming off as clumsy, ignorant, or worse…racist. Educators of color feel the burden of being “experts” in this area, which leads to an equal degree of discomfort in these conversations.
Educators should know that current events could act as a bridge that brings relevance to their educational content. How do the stories of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, or Trayvon Martin parallel the story of Emmett Till? How do their stories parallel Rodney King? How do the stories of these men parallel the events that led to the Watts riots of 1965?
I think teachers can use these events as a talking point to talk about what’s going on and have a real conversation in the classroom. Sometimes it’s that real conversation that helps a student become connected. And, I believe it is important for educators to know that it is exactly those real conversations that inspire a student to learn, to lead, and to lead change.
The risks of educators mishandling conversations on race are real and present. However, the risk of deploying young people into society without serious discourses on race, ethnicity, and social justice could lead to dire consequences. If educators do not take the lead in the quest for social justice we put our kids at risk. It is on us to talk with our students about race and ethnicity.
Through these discussions we can model how to use conversation in times of conflict. I know our children will not inherit a world free of injustice. Eric Gardner, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown serve as reminders of this. However, if we educate them I would feel a sense of reassurance our children will inherit a world of abundant opportunity. And the tragedies of the past will be a reminder of where we have been but not a reality of where we are.
The debate around student testing continues to escalate. Nationally, Congress is considering removing annual assessments as a requirement for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In Oregon, bills to allow students to opt out of annual testing or removing statewide annual assessments all together are being introduced in the legislative session.
While I agree we should engage in a thoughtful conversation about how we build an effective and balanced assessment system, I am concerned about the rising voices questioning the importance of statewide annual assessments, and the push to allow students to opt out of these tests.
An OEA workgroup commissioned by the Oregon Education Investment Board recently published a white paper proposing a system of assessments to support learning and foster student success. While the workgroup rightly highlights the need for better assessment literacy among educators, especially in formative and classroom summative assessments, it downplays the need to continue annual statewide assessments for all students in grades 3-8 and once in high school as currently required.
Chalkboard Project supports the need for a highly effective and balanced assessment system. While teachers must be well versed in formative and classroom summative assessments to help make adjustments to daily instruction, this alone is not enough. The goal of assessment is to improve how our students learn and ensure we are providing the best learning environment possible. Eliminating annual statewide testing would undermine our ability to identify which schools and districts are excelling or struggling; which strategies work or don’t; and where the state should direct its resources. Most importantly, annual statewide assessments are the cornerstone of a public accountability system that ensures historically underserved students and those most at risk are not forgotten or minimized. Statewide assessments provide transparency and are a tool to further equity of access to quality teaching and opportunities to learn for all students.
Every healthy system needs an outside check to monitor progress. Annual statewide assessments provide just that. There are valid concerns about current testing systems. That’s why we support the need to audit the type and number of assessments currently administered in Oregon schools, because many of these test are mandated at the local school or district level, and are often redundant and unnecessary.
At a time when Oregon lags behind nationally in student achievement and high school graduation, getting rid of a useful tool for measuring student learning seems counter productive and irresponsible. We cannot dismiss accountability nor accept mediocrity. As parents, educators, and taxpayers, we should be confident that our state is educating our children, closing achievement gaps, and holding our education system accountable. Annual statewide assessments are an important tool to meet this need.
Andrea Shunk is an Oregon School District
Collaboration Grant Manager for the David
Douglas School District. She has worked in
and around education since 2002.
I’ve often compared teaching to running a marathon.
However, unlike experienced marathoners who pace
their running over 26.2 miles, teachers begin their
marathons at full out sprints at the start of their careers and maintain that speed for as long as possible.
Running at a full sprint year after year doesn’t serve anyone well. Not teachers, not students, not parents, not principals. There is no time to slow down, reflect, change course, or respond to changing circumstances. There is only time to keep putting one foot in front of the other while straining to see the finish line.
How do we change the nature of the profession then? I believe teacher leadership becomes the game changer, giving teachers the time, space and autonomy to positively affect their peers and most importantly, their students.
Leading, Not Reacting
The breakneck speed of the school year sets up teachers to become reactors rather than leaders. Situations arise, and teachers react.
Situation: Cesar and Paige continue to disrupt class.
Reaction: Call home or create a seating chart.
Situation: Stack of work samples to grade.
Reaction: Clear Saturday morning. (And night. And Sunday.)
Situation: An assembly was scheduled in the middle of your test.
Reaction: Reschedule the test and shave a lesson off the unit plan.
Addressing the problems in front of us by leading is something different.
Leadership implies taking initiative, setting a process in motion, or being the reason for something. It gets teachers out in front of situations making decisions and creating plans to support students and their peers before a situation becomes problematic, rather than behind situations where we can only react to outside influences.
Leading by Example
Recently, our Collaboration Grant leadership team had the great fortune of attending one of the Teach to Lead summits put on by the U.S. Department of Education this year. We heard from a wide variety of teacher leaders from around the nation and inspiring stories of leadership.
The story of the Dolores T. Aaron Academy, a school in New Orleans, stuck with me as a model of leadership. The school’s administrative leadership gave teachers the time, space and autonomy to lead instead of react. Through six school leadership teams, teachers identified the needs of their students and school community and created ways to meet and address those needs.
For example, the Community Outreach team wanted to strengthen the relationship between the school and the male role models in students’ lives. They planned a “Donuts with Dads” event to start connecting with these important men. To the teams’ surprise, more than 350 male adults attended, flooding the school with support.
Individual teachers could have kept reacting at Dolores T. Aaron. But I don’t believe they would have found the same level of success. Instead, teacher leadership and principal support gave teachers the ability to slow down, seek out solutions to complex problems, and find unprecedented success.
In my school district, David Douglas, we have launched a teacher leadership program, the Cadre of Distinguished Educators, to change the nature of leadership for our teachers and students. We’re still figuring out the parameters of the program, but are starting to outline and define what teacher leadership could look like in David Douglas. How will we give teachers the time, space and autonomy to find innovative solutions to the complex problems facing our students and our profession?
Each year, running the marathon at a full sprint gets harder and harder. Instead of perpetuating systems where teachers can only react to influences outside of their control, let’s continue to find ways to strengthen teacher leadership and give teachers the time, space, and autonomy to implement lasting change.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Andrea was quoted in a recent Education Week online article about the Teaching & Learning Conference.
For several decades, the shortage of minority teachers has been an urgent issue for Oregon’s school districts. Oregon passed the Minority Teacher Act in 1991 to address the gap between the demographics of the state’s educator workforce, and that of the K-12 students they serve. Last year, the Oregon Department of Education reported that the state will not meet its 2015 goal of increasing the percentage of culturally and linguistically diverse teachers employed by school districts and education services districts by 10 percent.
Part of the problem is not enough culturally diverse students entering and completing teacher preparation programs. A bigger problem, however, seems to be the ability to keep those who do become teachers, in the teaching profession. In fact, culturally diverse teachers are leaving the teaching profession at a rate that is 24 percent higher than their white counterparts. A 2011 study by Ingersoll and May at the University of Pennsylvania att
ributed this to the disproportionate placement of diverse teachers in schools with the most disadvantaged students.
I recently heard the story of a Hispanic teacher who resigned after one year of teaching. Adriana, as I will call her, shared her difficult story with me and brought to light the key systemic barriers she and other many minority teachers face in pursuing a teaching career.
Adriana is now working as an assistant in an insurance office.
Adriana recalled how she always wanted to become a teacher, just like her personal hero. She adjusted her work schedule to attend classes. Being a second-language learner, the education process took longer, but she persevered and managed to obtain her teaching degree, and moved on to her student teaching experience.
Adriana met her cooperating teacher, who unfortunately forgot she was assigned a student teacher. The cooperating teacher spent little time mentoring and coaching Adriana, whose tasks mostly consisted of making copies of teaching handouts and grading them.“I felt like a clerical assistant, not a teacher in training,” remembers Adriana. She mentioned this to her university supervisor, who told her not to worry, because she would have another student teaching assignment with a different teacher. But, the second experience was worse, with her cooperating teacher out of the classroom leaving her alone for extended periods of time and again providing little if any feedback. As Adriana completed her student teaching experiences, she didn’t feel she was ready to step into a classroom as a full-time teacher. But her university supervisor indicated she was ready, especially since she received satisfactory evaluations from both cooperating teachers.
“My university supervisor told me that as a bilingual teacher I was a ‘slam dunk’ to be hired, and not to worry. ‘The first year is always a lesson in itself,’” he told me.
Adriana began her first job in an impoverished neighborhood, in a high-needs school where most of her third-grade students were ESL students. The classroom lacked curriculum resources and basic supplies. Her classroom didn’t even have an adult-sized chair for her, and previous furnishings, bookcases, and supplies had disappeared, causing her to scramble just to set up her classroom to start school.
At one of her classroom observations, Adriana’s principal said she needed to show improvement in classroom management, to make her learning objectives more visible, and find more ways to engage her students. But the principal didn’t provide specific examples or suggestions. He didn’t guide, coach, mentor, or even offer to let her observe other teachers.
“The students and I got along fine, but I knew that I was not meeting their needs, and that made me sad. I liked the parents, but I wasn’t sure how to engage them. I felt isolated and helpless,” recounts Adriana. After a year of working long hours and trying her best, Adriana resigned.
The only feedback the district gave her when she resigned was that a “one-year stint” would not look good on her resume, but at this point, she didn’t care. “I wasn’t helping the kids and I surely wasn’t helping myself. What’s left of my teaching experience are the reminders when I pay my student loans,” Adriana says sadly.
Adriana’s story is not unique. While there are many national programs designed to draw more culturally diverse teachers intoschools, and the number of starting teaching is increasing, there is relativelylittle focus on supporting them once they get there. TeachOregon is one of those initiatives that aim to not only recruit new minority teachers, but also to retain them.
How can these situations be avoided?
TeachOregon project teams are testing out many promising planned interventions to improve the situation for teacher candidates during their preparation and increase the retention rate once teachers are hired. Some of these interventions being tested include:
With these planned interventions and attention to what works, we can reach our goal of recruiting and retaining culturally diverse teachers in our work force until we mirror the demographics of our students in Oregon. And, ensuring success early on for teachers like Adriana.
While much of the Common Core buzz has centered on mathematics, another change is the increased use of non-fiction texts. While many schools already made such increases before Common Core, there are now mandatory increases of using non-fiction texts, beginning at the kindergarten level.
Educator and author Marc Aronson lectured recently in Portland on the topic of increasing non-fictional text usage in schools. Marc earned his doctorate in American History at NYU while working as an editor of books for young readers. He was the first winner of the American Library Association’s Robert F. Sibert Medal for the best informational book for readers through age 14. He teaches in the graduate library school at Rutgers where he trains school and public librarians, and frequently speaks at conferences on materials for children and teenagers.
Marc Aronson found time before his lecture to speak with Chalkboard staff on the topic of the Common Core and the increase of non-fictional text in the classroom. When asked what were the urgent things he would say to Oregon teachers, he had this to offer:
Make sure you have read the Common Core standards.
That is because I think a lot of the heat and tension are from people who “know” the standards third-, fourth-, or fifth-hand. I think when you read the standards, you will find that they are very clear.
Our students are living in an environment of constantly changing knowledge.
This is the reality of the technological world we live in. I believe we are living in a time where tools for gathering data and processing knowledge have exponentially increased their speed and power. Students have to have that forward-thinking mentality because it’s out of our hands—that’s the reality we are in.
I urge teachers to look at the standards, and non-fiction books, non-fiction websites, with the eye of:
- Does this help my students learn inquiry?
- Does this help them see all of knowledge as a detective story?
- Does it help them develop the tools so they can make sense of new ideas, new technology, and new knowledge that will arrive in the coming years, but which isn’t here yet?
If you speak to a librarian, a person who see kids and their caregivers looking for fun reading, they will tell you non-fiction is very popular. Kids want to know things. They want to know things about the world. They want to know things about dinosaurs, weather, and about sharks. And as educators we want to teach reading as a skill that is worth their time. For many kids, non-fiction provides motivation. It makes the process easier, because you are giving students more of what they actually want to read.
I work and meet with countless teachers and administrators across the country. Every time I go to such a conference I hear the story of a child who wanted to read a nonfiction book and was told he couldn’t, because reading meant, “reading a novel.” That is a bias, and therefore, it is a barrier that we have to remove.
We have to expose more teachers and administrators and show how lively, how engaging, how fresh, and how dynamic much of the non-fiction being created for K-12 truly is.
Among all school-related factors, leaders are second only to teachers in their impact on student learning. But a principal’s day-to-day practice often looks very different. Faced with a myriad of pressures and responsibilities driven by the political, social, and economic landscape in public education, school leaders often lack time and support to improve instruction.
At the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), we believe that we need to get our priorities straight to best serve our students. The most important responsibility of the principal is to improve teaching and learning.
That’s why we at CEL are excited to partner with the Chalkboard Project to improve instructional leadership in Oregon Public Schools. This is a paradigm shift towards better instructional leadership development in public education and Oregon is leading the way. The Leading for Learning project will establish the state as a national leader in supporting principal (or instructional leader) effectiveness.
As a former principal, I know the pressures of the principalship and the constant feeling of not having enough time for everything that is expected. Unfortunately, one of the first areas to take a hit on my calendar was time spent in classrooms, observing instruction and providing feedback to teachers and students.
I wasn’t alone in this situation. A 2012 report found that principals spent only 3 – 5 hours per week on instructionally focused activities. When I was a principal, the culture of the central office was not set up to support me or my colleagues in this area. Thankfully, the national focus is now shifting toward providing this support to principals – it will be the focus of our learning together throughout this project.
The foundation for our work with central office leaders and superintendents through the Leading for Learning project is the Principal Support Framework, which addresses how central office personnel should support principals in the work of improving the educational outcomes for all students and eliminating the persistent achievement gaps that exist along the lines of race, class, language, and disability.
The framework calls for three critical action areas for supporting principals:
We believe that these actions, when taken in total and well executed, create dramatic improvements in a principal’s instructional leadership practice, and as a result improvements in student achievement.
One of the foundational ideas at CEL is that improving practice in a culture of public scrutiny requires reciprocal accountability – meaning that if we are going to hold you—a teacher, or a principal—accountable for something, we have an equal and commensurate responsibility to ensure that you know how to do what we are expecting you to do.
It is in that spirit that CEL is partnering with the Chalkboard Project, central office leaders and superintendents throughout the state to establish a culture in which every school leader is supported to improve teaching effectiveness for every student in every classroom across Oregon.
Congratulations to Julie Cleave, a teacher at Salem’s Hallman Elementary School, for being recognized as an outstanding educator with a 2015 Milken Foundation Award.
Cleave is in her 11th year at Hallman, a Chalkboard partner through the Teacher Incentive Fund program. The Milken Foundation gives out the annual awards (including a $25,000 prize) to just 40 teachers across the country.
Despite the fact that three out of four students at Halllman come from low-income families, Cleave produces outstanding results. Most children enter her blended first/second grade classroom struggling in reading and math, but nearly every one of them catches up to grade level by the end of their time with in her room.
Cleave employs an array of instructional strategies and groupings to engage students in project-based, hands-on learning. She uses assessment data to monitor student progress and to adapt her teaching strategies accordingly. She also goes above and beyond her work in the classroom, creating a girls’ running club and rallying support in the community for needy students and their families.
Cleave notes that Chalkboard’s work on revamping teacher evaluations is raising the bar for the entire staff at Hallman, which piloted the new rubric in the district.
Principal Jen VanSlander says it is impossible to clone someone like Cleave, but the new system provides teachers much more detailed information to guide them in improving their practice. “Before, our evaluation system was based on teachers either ’meeting’ or ‘not meeting’ a standard,” VanSlander says. “Now the feedback teachers get is much more purposeful and designed to support their growth.”