Teacher training seeks ‘cultural competence’


Amy Davis teaches second-graders about parachutes at a Los Angeles elementary school. Photo: Joel Leavenworth/Slate

White teachers need to become “culturally competent” to teach non-white students, writes Vanessa Romo in Slate. “Minority children now account for more than half of all students in public schools and the teacher workforce remains more than 80 percent white. And so teacher-training programs are increasingly trying to figure out how to bridge this divide.”

When she began teaching a class of second-graders in South Los Angeles in 2002, Amy Davis . . . figured she’d have little trouble relating to her mostly low-income black and Latino students. After all, she was raised nearby, in a household headed by a single mother who for years survived on welfare and food stamps. Like her students, Davis knew what it was like to grow up poor.

But Davis, who is white, struggled to connect with several of the children — particularly a 7-year-old black student named Patrick.

Patrick had frequent meltdowns that disrupted her class.

Davis decided that she was seeing Patrick through a white, middle-class “lens” and needed to understand his home life. She began phoning his mother regularly. “I had to cultivate that relationship, but when he found out we talked almost once a week, he started changing his behavior,” she says.

. . . (Davis) learned to scour catalogs for books featuring black American and Latino protagonists that looked like her students. She adopted classroom management techniques that didn’t disproportionately single out black boys . . . And she figured out how to talk to her students about the beauty and linguistic variations of the language they spoke at home—usually African American Vernacular—and the importance of being able to switch into standard English when necessary.

Davis now coaches teachers in how to help students — nearly all are Latino or black — master standard English. She “helps teachers recognize their own biases and reflect on how those biases influence their expectations of students and approach to discipline,” writes Romo. “She also provides guidance in choosing books and other materials that the children will be able to relate to.”

Is this “cultural competence” or just plain old competence? And wouldn’t Patrick be a royal pain for a teacher of any color or creed?

A comment by “sameoldsameold” asks:  “You really want to sit down teachers, a population already disrespected, exploited, despised, blamed, underpaid, saddled with every social ill the rest of the country won’t deal with, and essentially tell them they’re ‘racially biased’ towards students  and need to confess their ‘privilege?’  Really?”

Principal: Teachers don’t know how to teach reading


CNN’s Kelly Wallace takes part in a game of Hedbanz during reading instruction at P.S. 94 in the Bronx.

Teachers need to be taught how to teach reading, says Principal Diane Daprocida, who runs a Bronx elementary school. University programs teach “philosophy of education, sociology of education, classroom management,” but not reading, she complains.

Finally, she partnered with Teaching Matters, which got a a $600,000 grant to improve reading instruction in high-poverty Bronx schools.

In each classroom, small groups of children work independently: In kindergarten, a table captain might say the sound of the beginning of a word while the other students write the letter on their smart boards. In second grade, students play the game Hedbanz, in which one person wears a headband with a word they can’t see and gets clues from the other students to try to guess the word. In third grade, three boys read “Paul Bunyan,” with each reading the text attributed to a different character.

 In addition to these independent work stations, teachers lead small groups of students in guided reading instruction. In kindergarten, a teacher and students discuss a book about feathers and what clues they have to know that the book is not about birds. In third grade, students reading “Behind Rebel Lines,” a book about a Civil War spy, discuss the motivations of the people they are reading about.

Teachers observe each other doing a guided reading lesson, then discuss what worked and what didn’t.

In the past, one or two third graders might read a fifth-grade-level book, said Daprocida. Now, “we’ve got third-grade kids across the board … reading those stories and being able to discuss the plot of those books, and it’s just amazing.”

Ashley Aucar helps her third-graders learn new words.

Ashley Aucar helps her third-graders learn new words.

She’s “had to buy a ton of new books.”

A majority of third-graders are reading at grade level by mid-year, an independent evaluation found. In the past, only 30 percent reached grade level, the principal said.

The major obstacle to success wasn’t that her students come from low-income families or don’t speak much English at home, she said. It was the skill level “to be able to teach reading, and that’s what we needed to bring to our teachers, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Timothy Shanahan has advice for being an effective reading coach.

Learning to teach from a teacher

Urban Teachers trainee Meghan Sanchez, 23, is spending a year in a Washington, D.C. pre-K classroom before getting her own class. Photo: Jackie Mader, Hechinger Report

New teachers who’ve spent a full year in a mentor’s classroom may not be more effective in their first year, writes Hechinger’s Jackie Mader. However, they appear to improve faster than conventionally trained teachers and outperform them by their fourth and fifth year, according to a 2011 study of the Boston Teacher Residency Program.

In addition, residency grads are more likely to be teaching after three to five years, reports the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

NCTR residents also are more likely to teach English Learners or in areas of chronic shortage, such as  science, technology, engineering or math.

A first-year “resident” of Urban Teachers, Meghan Sanchez shares a pre-K classroom in Washington D.C. with Alina Kaye, an experienced teacher, while taking evening courses to earn a master’s degree. She’ll be supported for four years as she moves into teaching.

“Residency programs like Urban Teachers are something of a hybrid of traditional and alternative routes, and some experts hope they’ll be the wave of the future,” writes Mader.

By contrast, Teaching Fellow Amit Reddy is learning to teach middle-school science by teaching, also in D.C. It’s exhausting.

Train to be great: Can teachers do it?

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice isn’t enough, says Anders Ericsson, known for the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert. In his new book, Peak, Ericsson explains how to practice to be awesome, writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham in a rave review.

The key to achieving awesomeness is “deliberate” practice, writes Willingham, summarizing the book. Three points stand out for me:

  • It’s for skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques exist.
  • You typically work on one small aspect of the skill when you practice.
  • It requires meaningful feedback, and meaningful response to the feedback.

For example, to create better doctors, “the medical field needs to identify experts in each field, figure out what underlies their superior performance, and develop the logical steps to build those mental representations in novices.”

What about teachers? Peering Around the Corner, a Bellwether Education Partners research paper, argues that teacher trainers
don’t know how to make great teachers — or even competent ones.

Teach Like a Champion shows expert teachers' strategies for getting student's attention.

Teach Like a Champion shows expert teachers’ strategies for getting student’s attention.

Every year, nearly 27,000 teacher preparation programs turn out 200,000 would-be teachers, Bellwether notes. Yet there’s no evidence that preparation requirements — licensure tests, grade or SAT minimums, student teaching hours and performance assessments — guarantee effective teachers.

It’s also not clear how to help experienced teachers develop their skills, the report found. “At every stage of a teacher’s career we simply don’t know how to help her improve.”

Doug Lemov focuses on improving teaching practice in Teach Like a Champion. Is this the way to greatness?

Stop hazing new teachers

It’s time to stop hazing new teachers, writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News. Without training in classroom management, new teachers are set up to flounder and fail.

In The Battle for Room 314, Ed Boland refutes the “hero teacher” narrative, writes Pondiscio. Boland didn’t save his tough, inner-city students. He struggled for a year at a New York City high school, then quit.

Pondiscio recalls being a new fifth-grade teacher at a low-performing public school in the South Bronx. He was saved by a mid-year transfer to take over an experienced teacher’s class and by reading Ron Clark’s book, The Essential 55, which listed “classroom rules . . . to teach his students to be attentive, engaged and respectful.”

Taking over a new class gave me a fresh start in my first year and an opportunity to undo my rookie mistakes; Clark’s 55 rules helped me develop a hard-nosed action plan to address my prodigious classroom management struggles. It’s worth noting that Clark’s book was a direct repudiation of the training I’d received, which encouraged us to allow students to create their own classroom rules so they would feel “ownership” of their “classroom community.” The only thing that got owned was me.

Boland followed the traditional teacher prep route with two years of graduate school and six months of student teaching. “I had taken courses in lesson planning, evaluation, psychology, and research,” he writes. “Next to nothing was said about what a first-year teacher most needs to know: how to control a classroom.”

“We treat the first-year teaching like it is some sorority or fraternity hazing,” notes Kate Walsh, the head of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “Educators expect a new teacher to be sick to her stomach every day at the thought of how she is going to survive the day just because that’s what they once did. It’s appalling!”

Often, schools “are filled good people trying their best and failing,” writes Pondiscio. Boland was “failed by those who trained him, hired him and left him to crash and burn.”

Teachers want tech, but need training

“It seems a waste,” writes Hechinger’s Meghan Murphy. Despite “millions of educational apps, millions of lesson plans available online, millions of laptops in the hands of students,” few teachers “find ways to infuse technology into their lessons.”

Teachers say they need more and better training, she writes. In a 2015 survey, 90 percent of teachers said technology was important for classroom success; almost two-thirds wanted to integrate it into their lessons, but said they needed more training.

Paul Andersen, a Bozeman High School science teacher and Montana Teacher of the Year, showed other teachers how to create YouTube tutorials to "flip" the classroom.

Paul Andersen, a Bozeman High science teacher, showed how to create YouTube tutorials to “flip” the classroom.

A nonprofit and several teacher-founded companies are developing interactive training methods to help teachers use digital tools effectively.

Jessica Anderson has “blended” her ninth-grade earth science class in Deer Lodge, Montana. She’s is the state’s Teacher of the Year for 2016.

On a day in December, a girl worked on her laptop to illustrate the cycle of water through the atmosphere, while a boy used Google 3-D glasses to take “a virtual field trip, researching various ways that communities across the globe use minerals.” Each student was on a self-directed path, writes Murphy.

BetterLesson, founded by former teachers from Atlanta and Boston,  provides “master teachers” who help someone like Anderson “create a strategic plan for doing blended learning” and a way to measure effectiveness, writes Murphy. “The team then meets along the way for coaching, feedback and accountability.”

When Jessica Lura taught a lesson on mood in writing, she used a PBS Kids video as a hook for her eighth-graders at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos, California, writes Murphy.

By the end of the lesson, they’ll have written sentences in various moods, written and recorded a monologue, and made that monologue come to life with an animation app.

Lura’s teaching is captured in the “Lesson Flow in Action” video on Graphite, which is Common Sense Media’s portal for teacher resources. Common Sense featured Lura because she’s one of their certified educators who integrates technology comfortably into her classroom. Her lesson plans are hosted with about 2,200 other lessons on the site, which also has almost 12,000 app reviews accessible to its more than 310,000 teacher members.

Another sites, Teachers Pay Teachers, provides free and paid resources. Teachers have earned $175 million for their lessons.

Learning to teach from a teacher


Medical school graduates work as residents to learn how to be competent doctors. The Boston Teacher Residency is training Renee Alves, 22, in an experienced teacher’s classroom, reports Christopher Booker for PBS NewsHour. She “will spend 10 months watching, emulating, and learning as much as she can” from Kayla Morse, who teaches third grade at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury.

Jesse Solomon, who taught math in Boston public schools for 10 years, co-founded the program in 2003.

One thing I saw a lot when I was teaching was– a number of brand new teachers coming into the profession. Smart, committed, hard-working, kind of willing to do whatever it takes– but not really knowing how to teach that first year.

My concern was always that they were learning on the backs on the kids that had them that year, right? So if you’re a first-year teacher in Algebra 1 class, you get another shot next year. For those kids taking Algebra 1, that was their shot at algebra 1. So had in my head that there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

Three of four residency graduates in the past 12 years are teaching in Boston — including Morse, who completed her residency four years ago.

The program “has shown success not only retaining more teachers but hiring more science and math specialists, and placing more Black, Latino, and Asian-Americans in the classroom,” reports Booker.

The program was redesigned when a 2011 Harvard study found that first-year residents’ students earned lower math scores than students of first-year teachers  from traditional programs.

Now, residents are concentrated in fewer schools, says Solomon.

So if you have, you know, seven math residents and seven math mentors and a math clinic teacher educator, you have 15 people all in the same school talking together on a daily basis about what, like, does good math teaching look like– for– for the kids in this school.

Residents assist a mentor teacher four days a week and spend the fifth day taking graduate classes to earn a master’s in education.

Ed schools try to reform themselves

It’s time to remake teacher education, declares Deans for Impact, two dozen deans of education schools. The group released The Science of Learning, a report by Dan Willingham and Paul Bruno on how to apply cognitive science research to classroom practice.

The deans have “committed themselves to a common set of principles, including data-driven improvement, common outcome measures, empirical validation of teacher preparation methods, and accountability for student learning,” writes Robert Pondisco.

Too often, teacher ed programs “fetishize theory, teachers’ dispositions toward learners, or soft pedagogical skills at the expense of subject matter depth,” he writes.

Schools of education have largely received a pass in our accountability-mad era. Attempts at even modest reform typically bring howls of protest. That reality prompted Robert Pianta, the head of UVA’s education school and one of the Deans for Impact, to write recently that he was “embarrassed that professionals responsible for the preparation of teachers seem to oppose so adamantly efforts to evaluate the competence of the workforce they produce.”

Of course, ed schools have pledged to reform before.

NCTQ rates ‘best value’ ed schools

Western Governors University, which is all online, City University of New York-Hunter College and City University of New York-Brooklyn College are the nation’s top three “best value” colleges of education, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality

The ratings consider quality, affordability, how much teachers can earn in the state and “how well the school prepares future teachers for the realities of the classroom.”

A total of 416 programs in 35 states received a grade of A or B. The list is here.

NCTQ also launched Path to Teach, a free search tool with information about the quality of more than 1,100 schools of education.

The education of Jose Garcia

Five years after he earned his diploma, Jose Garcia returned to Rauner College Prep as a teacher. Noble Street Network of Charter Schools, which runs 16 schools in Chicago, is hiring and training its graduates, reports Becky Vevea, WBEZ education reporter, in The Education of Jose Garcia.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014.

Jose Garcia on his first day of school as a teacher in 2014. Photo: Becky Vevea, WBEZ

Garcia tutored Spanish-speaking second graders when he attended Denison, but he didn’t major in education and doesn’t have teaching license. “He got just two weeks of training over the summer and he doesn’t have a teaching license,” writes Vevea.

But he’ll spend a year assisting experienced teachers before getting his own classroom.

Like Noble’s other new teachers, Garcia is enrolled in the Relay Graduate School of Education. In late-afternoon classes, master educators teach strategies such as the “self-interrupt.”

There’s no campus, no lectures, no discussions of John Dewey or Rudolph Steiner. Mostly, it’s a lot of practice on how to manage a classroom.

He will earn a master’s degree – -but not a teaching license. “To be licensed through an alternative route, like Relay, Jose must have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA,” writes Vevea. With very low grades in his first year at Denison, he finished with a 2.8.

Mid-way through the year, already “exhausted and overwhelmed” by his co-teaching responsibilities, Garcia takes over two sophomore English classes, replacing a teacher on medical leave.

In a survey at year’s end, he’s surprised by how many students wrote, “Mr. Garcia didn’t give up on me.”

This year, Garcia is a counseling seniors on college options and teaching two sections of a new class called Identity and Justice Studies.