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Fellows from four communities have attended Education Stakeholders Forums on the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, held in Washington at the U.S. Department of Education. The Fellows – Bonnee Breese of Philadelphia, Pa.; Stephanie Brown-Bryant of DeKalb County, Ga.; Jeffrey Joyce of Charlotte, N.C.; and Valerie Schwarz of Richmond, Va. – are teachers from communities participating in the Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools®. Each has served the Initiative as the teacher Representative for their city and has participated in national seminars at Yale.
"My concern is about professional development and how we can improve that for teachers," said Valerie Schwarz, who teaches fourth grade at Mary Munford Elementary School. Addressing 200 participants gathered for the first Forum on September 24, Ms. Schwarz went on to say: "The Yale National Initiative gets teachers working and partnering in an innovative way with universities, and we collaborate with faculty members and develop curriculum units for our students that set the bar very high for them."
Jeffrey Joyce, who teaches history and government at the Northwest School of the Arts, explained that the Teachers Institute approach gives teachers the support they need to be effective by providing on-going professional development that promotes continuous improvement for teaching. Mr. Joyce said that Institutes help teachers "by giving them content-based professional development, not methods. It makes them more knowledgeable. Thus, we think it gives them great confidence, invigorates them, and makes them better at what they do."
Education Department officials speaking at the Forums have made clear that the Obama Administration will be seeking ways to strengthen the professionalism of teaching with the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. "Let's build a law that respects the honored and noble status of educators who should be valued as skilled professionals rather than mere practitioners and compensated accordingly," said Secretary Arne Duncan at the first Forum.
The Department is also seeking to improve teacher effectiveness by increasing the number of effective teachers and retaining them in the high-poverty schools where they are needed the most. Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Thelma Melendez said at the second Forum on October 13: "Effective teachers are our nation's greatest educational resource and are the key to our reform efforts. We can make sure that every child has a teacher who is supported and treated as the professional they are."
Stephanie Brown-Bryant, a science and technology teacher at DeKalb County's Tucker Middle School, praised her district administrators for their support for her and her colleagues' involvement in the Yale National Initiative as DeKalb considers establishing its own Teachers Institute. "This program works for us because our administrators know that we are dedicated professionals," Ms. Brown-Bryant said.
Earlier this year, Bonnee Breese, who teaches English at Philadelphia's Overbrook High School, addressed President Obama at a town hall meeting in the White House. She asked the President how his Administration would define effective teaching and how they would include teachers in developing that definition. The President was straightforward in saying, "Teachers are the most important person in the education system." He went on to describe the need for curriculum that truly motivates students, curriculum "designed around sparking people's creativity and their interest in" school subjects. "We've got to have teacher buy-in" on these plans, the President said.
Speaking at public events is one way that Yale National Fellows have been communicating with the Obama Administration. Fellows from across the nation also have written dozens of letters to the President and to Secretary Duncan since July, urging that the provisions of H.R. 3209 and S. 2212, the Teachers Professional Development Institutes Act, which was introduced in the 110th Congress, be incorporated in the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Fellows have pointed to evaluations establishing that
- Teachers Institutes enhance those teacher qualities known to increase teacher effectiveness and student achievement.
- Teachers Institutes that follow the approach developed in New Haven exemplify all the crucial elements of high-quality teacher professional development.
- Participation in Teachers Institutes of this type is strongly correlated with teacher retention in high-poverty schools.
- Teachers Institutes are a proven way of engaging universities' sciences and humanities faculty in strengthening teachers' preparation in their subjects.
Through their written communications and by speaking at public forums, Yale National Fellows have advocated on behalf of all teachers who can benefit from the high-quality professional development Teachers Institutes provide. As Ms. Schwarz said at the first Education Department Forum, "The traditional ways of professional development aren't working, and it is something that needs to be fixed."
"America's future depends on its teachers," President Obama said soon after taking office. "We can afford nothing but the best when it comes to our children's teachers and the schools where they teach."
The Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools® is a long-term endeavor to establish exemplary Teachers Institutes in high-need school districts in states throughout the country. Teachers Institutes are educational partnerships between universities and school districts designed to strengthen teaching and learning in a community's public schools. The League of Teachers Institutes® is an alliance that advances their work locally and nationally.
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