Teachers outline a new career vision

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A report released today by Advance Illinois argues that to improve teaching and learning, teachers should be given resources to collaborate with each other, to share leadership responsibilities with administrators, and to continue learning and advancing in their profession long after they’ve received tenure.

Transforming Teacher Work For a Better Educated Tomorrow,” based on feedback from the group’s 20-member Educator Advisory Council, offers a vision for changing teachers’ work days and career trajectories, and for expanding the possibilities for what a teaching career can include.

In Japan, for instance, teachers spend just 40 percent of each day in front of a classroom.

Such reforms could help create better schools, the report argues.

Top college graduates need “opportunities for ongoing professional growth, career advancement and leadership” in order to see themselves in teaching and stick with it as a career. One in five young teachers complains that there’s a “lack of opportunity for advancement” in the profession – not to mention that teachers need more time to work together effectively enough to raise student achievement.

Of course, teachers in Illinois are clearly a long way from getting the status, resources, advancement opportunities and planning time that are common in other countries. But the report suggests that Illinois’ new rules for teacher evaluation could be used to further a new vision for the teaching profession – perhaps piloted with funds from the federal Race to the Top grant program. (Illinois’ slice of that pie will likely be announced before the end of December.)

For that to work, money needs to be provided to implement the new evaluations, as well as support for teachers to improve. The report also suggests creating more flexible teacher scheduling and pay scales–to allow teachers to take on leadership roles–revamping Illinois’ teacher leadership endorsement, and recruiting innovative teachers to help develop curriculum and programs.

“You have to have a vision in your head of where you’re trying to go,” says Robin Steans, the executive director of Advance Illinois. “[There needs to be] a much more thoughtful, differentiated opportunity for teachers to contribute in multiple different ways. You can respond to reforms in a fashion that allows you to build a different professional culture.”

For instance, she says, CPS is no longer required to bargain with the Chicago Teachers Union about the length of the school day and year.

“This gives the district permission to think about the instructional day and the work day,” Steans says. “You really have to think about those differently. What is it we want the kids to know and experience, and then what do we want the teachers’ day to look like?”