Coaching teachers

The kids get a day off while the teachers listen to a professional development consultant they’ll never see again. It’s usually a waste of time, teachers say. But there’s hope for a new idea: Coaches who work with teachers in their school. New teachers are much more likely to stay with the job if they get support from coaches and colleagues. So says the Harvard Education Letter, via Education News.

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  1. Anything the administration plans is going to be a waste of time. As to coaching? My first year at my present job was hell, but that’s a given in our profession. A coach would have been a godsend. A friendly face would have been a godsend.

  2. mike from oregon says:

    Ugh, sounds like another ‘new’ idea to try to patch up a failing old idea. Ever think that its time to allow the patient to die and use the money for something that MIGHT work? Well, maybe this idea will work (but I have my doubts). Personally, I believe using the money to inspire some older, GOOD teachers to become mentors might work. However, I don’t work in the educational system, I just keep railing against the newer, dumber ideas that keep getting introduced in the system.

  3. For once, our CA district listened to our opinions on our “professional development” days and allowed our own district’s teachers to present on topics germaine to our own classes and student population. All the teachers later agreed it was the most helpful b/c: we didn’t spend time with icebreakers; trying to explain that yes, we teach English learners, but they’re mostly from Asia, not Mexico; explaining our unique needs, etc. On top of that, most of our professional dev speakers hadn’t even been in a real classroom in years. It was insulting. I don’t know if the district will stick with this idea…I’m in grad school now…but I’m curious to see what the future will hold.

  4. Tim from Texas says:

    This is great. High stakes testing and other teacher evaluation measures are everywhere. Teachers are constantly being “weighed,” but it is not certain that they are being fattened up, that is, REALLY helped to become more effective teachers.

    For the very most part,it can only be done by highly experienced master teachers with expertise at each level- elementary, middle and high—- not by professors, cunsultants, and the like who are legends in their own minds, and who are considered legends by others, through some unknown process, or through the process of blowing smoke up dresses and/or pantlegs, but have no history/portfolio proving same. I feel I must add here that having just an MA,MEd or PhD alone, logic dictates, does not make a master teacher.

    School districts, we, have spent a fortune hiring these types over the past 30 yrs. What has it gotten us? We must stop throwing good money after the bad.

  5. A friend of mine in a neighboring school district had a “professional development” day in which the district hired a dubiously-named “Workplace Environment Consultant.” One of the first things he did was separate the teachers into three groups of farm animals: ducks, pigs, and cows. The teachers had to find their other group members by making the sound of their assigned animal.

    Your tax dollars at work. 😉

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    Suzie, you’ve _got_ to email that story to Scott Adams. 😉

  7. Mike in Texas says:

    I once had to sit through 6 hours of training where the consultant spent almost the entire day analyzing an essay entitled “how to eat a tootsie roll” My district paid her $1500 for the day’s training.

  8. bluemount says:

    Long ago, in my industry (IT), mentoring meant sharing an office with senior staff for 2 years – or at least working very closely. Today a mentor is someone you have lunch with once a month. The anal, perfectionist freaks that grew the industry have been replace with a process that proclaims the value of a checklist. The transition from the floppy disk to the internet, appears to be a parade for millions dedicated to simplifing the work.

    It confuses me when teachers talk about doing something they loved; I never ‘loved’ my job. I’m still nausiated by fear of failure and I feel grateful anytime the process steps aside for genuine walls of critism to pound my work. I love feeling like I did my best and waiting for the results to form in the marketplace. I think that is the experience of age, not industry.

    Our teachers are young to accommadate a growing population. They need experienced help on the front line, not someone to make them feel better right away. Support groups are for after work. Real help needs to be the correct introduction into the industry by experienced and exceptionally talented veterans.

  9. Mike in Texas says:

    >Real help needs to be the correct introduction into the industry by experienced and exceptionally talented veterans.

    Bluemont makes an excellent point, one which the teachers at my school have told our administration repeatedly. We’d rather be taught by an experience, respected teacher than some high priced consultant with a new system they are making huge amounts of money off of.

  10. I can equal Tara and Suzy’s anecdotes as well. Furthermore, six years ago I was involved in establishing a common level one final exam (for Spanish) for our district. When we switched our central office administration (new superintendent and subordinates), nothing was saved of all the work we had done.

    Last year, the new crew wanted — get this — to work on a common level one Spanish final exam! Along with all other disciplines, one day per month was “set aside” for inservice to develop these exams.

    I went to a preliminary meeting about the inservices, and all I did was shake my head in anguish. Years of work down the tubes.

    I ended up taking personal days for each inservice day.

  11. In addition, I completely and totally second the notion that the best inservices are led by experienced teachers — on a pertinent classroom topic. One of the best recent inservices I attended (an afterschool one) involved setting up different kinds of scoring rubrics. It was run by the science teacher across the hall from me. I couldn’t thank him enough for “not wasting my time”!!

  12. mike from oregon says:

    Dave Huber –
    I guess I wonder why you didn’t have a copy of the final exam that you had helped work on. It would have been so neat to toss it in the middle of the table and say, “Here is what we’ve been using, if we can improve it, fine, otherwise, we’re done.”

    I use to work for a rather large high tech company. I was in the maintenance end of it. We had over 30 large buildings on one campus, spread over about 120 acres that the company owned. About every 3 or 4 years you would get a new upper, upper management boss (of the maintenance group) and he would want to ‘de-centralize’, each building was going to have it’s own maintenance group. 3 to 4 years later, he would be gone and a new guy would want to ‘centralize’, all building would be served by one common group who could serve any and all buildings. Likewise, I would get bosses over my particular discipline who would want to try one method of either record keeping or maintenance, that would be abandon by another geek later on with another method. Eventually it would come around to where, with the newest boss, one of our old methods, that had been tried and replaced, would be the “new method of the week” (as we use to call it). I’d dig out the old schedule and the old data and my newest boss thought I was the greatest because I was on board with his “new plan” so quickly. It’s a joke.

  13. Dave, we had the same issue of lack of institutional memory at our district. It was so irritating that we’d get the same sorts of questionnaires each year, the same sorts of committees. It was no wonder to me how many experienced teachers got jaded and sick of hearing things. What made me more surprised was, how many teachers didn’t get jaded. Here’s another part of the problem: in order to hear “new voices” (because our district really didn’t want to know what we thought..but that’s another post) the principals targeted newbie teachers to join committtees so that the higher-ups could continue to hold their jobs down (by claiming they were exploring the work of the committees, and implementing it).

  14. Tim from Texas says:

    I am continually amazed year after year that teachers believe vps principals, and the upper levels of a schools administration are there to improve the academic side of education.

    For example, in a school district lets say, where there are 3 high-schools. High-school A. is attended by mostly anglo students from the wrong side of the tracks, B. is attended by a mixture of anglos, blacks, and hispanic students, also from the wrong side of the tracks. The C. is attended by anglos, hispanics and blacks from the right side of the tracks.

    Through the years C. always did better academically than A. and A. better than B. Then a principal is hired accidentally for B, who is full of vigor to improve the academic achievement of the students there. Over a matter of years he, and his vps and curriculum director, teachers et al manage to bring the levels of academic achievement above the levels of A. and close to the levels of C. What happens to the principal then? Please circle one of the answers below.

    1. He is awarded the best principal of the district medal.

    2.He is encouraged to keep up the good work and produce better results.

    3.He is made the district wide director for academic improvement.

    4. He is demoted up to the position of Executive Director of Transportation.

    Administration positions are political positions in so far as my experience has been. So my answer is 4.

  15. mike from oregon: I see I wasn’t clear enough. Apologies. We never actually came up with a definitive final exam; it was essentially the topics, questions, question types, time frames, etc. all of which were supposed to be saved by the district and disseminated to all relevant teachers. I still have all the stuff that I personally contributed/brought to the table, as well some prelim. collaborative work w/some other teachers. Others have theirs.

    Nevertheless, you’re absolutely correct. It would have been nice to throw the “old” exam down.

  16. The newest fad that’s being shoved down our throats is Step Up to Writing.

    Like most education fads (and Scientology), it’s tied to a new vocabulary which, by definition, makes perfect sense.

    Most teachers I know don’t need to be trained. They need to be empowered.

    And any “coach” that comes on campus who utters one word that isn’t at least 10 years old should be tarred and feathered.

  17. Thanks, Steve, but who’s Scott Adams?

  18. Oh, these professional development anecdotes warm the cockles of my not-quite-yet jaded heart. Empathy! And I’ve yet another to add to the mix:

    During my first year, all new teachers were herded into the district office for training on classroom management. The presenter? A psychologist. A psychologist with *no* classroom experience. And – just to let us new teachers know how important we were – he was being videotaped for his own marketing purposes, and he spoke into the camera the *whole* time! Not the audience – us teachers – but the _camera_.

    His main advice was to call disruptive students outside of the classroom individually to “counsel” them without humiliating them or damaging their self-esteem. Uh-huh. Trying doing *that* in the middle of a mock archaeological dig.

  19. Mike from Illinois says:

    SuzieQ, Scott Adams is the cartoonist who draws and writes “Dilbert.”

  20. Steve LaBonne says:

    Adams also writes very funny non-Dilbert books (though usually with some old Dilbert strips included to illustrate his points) about the stupidities of the working world. For both those and the Dilbert strips themselves he relies heavily on real-world stories that real people email to him- which is why Dilbert is so frighteningly realistic sometimes. 😉 I could easily see Suzy’s anecdote featuring prominently in one of his books- it’s just the kind of thing he loves. He can be reached via

  21. Mike in Texas says:

    Very often the new business practices Scott Adams mocks in Dilbert will appear in schools within a couple of years. The city I live in has a supt. who bit big into the “change” idea of business. Sooooooo, he shuffled people who were doing excellent jobs where they were into other schools, including moving one person from high school down into an elementary school where she had absolutely no experience, or clues. So many of her staff tried to transfer out, I believe 50%, that the distric had to ban in-district transfers. This supt. is currently on the hot seat over new construction; he found out that the lowest bidder isn’t necessarily the best choice.