Professional Journal Summary Feb. 99 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Professional Journal Summary

Submitted by Tim Everson

February 3, 1999

This sounds like a teachers dream come true. Thats what I thought when I read James Nehrings article, Cure for Teacher Shortage: Let Teachers Teach in the January 13, 1999 edition of Education Week on the Web.

Mr. Nehring states that our public schools are currently facing a teacher shortage and signing bonuses and get tough measures will not cure the problem. He claims that talented people want interesting places to work and schools are becoming less and less interesting every year. This is brought on by government mandated curriculum goals that cause many teachers to feel that they must teach to the test so that their students will do well on the state minimum standards tests.

Another issue that Nehring mentions is the large number of students that high school teachers must work with each day. Many high school teachers see between 120 and 150 students each day. The teachers workday is filled with classes, hall duty, and grading, leaving very little time for teachers to plan with their colleagues. I have two prep periods, but find it very difficult to find time to talk with other teachers during this time. Either they are teaching classes or Im too busy helping students, grading papers, or preparing lessons.

Nehring teaches at the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Mass. In this school the faculty writes their own curriculum which draws from many backgrounds. It ties many of the disciplines together to create an interesting learning experience for the students and an interesting teaching experience for the teachers. At Parker, Nehring team teaches and teaches a total of only 62 students and assesses the work of only 26 students. This enables him to give each assignment more time when assessing and to give more written feedback to each student on their assignments. Nehrings day consists of three two-hour periods in which he teaches during two and has the third unscheduled every day. This schedule shows commitment to teacher planning time. He often uses his unscheduled period each day to meet with his teaching partner to discuss students and curriculum or to call parents regarding their childs progress.

How does their school do it? To begin with they have made some deliberate trade offs. For one, they have no guidance counselors. Each teacher serves as advisor to twelve students and consults the school psychologist on issues that require certain expertise. The school also offers very few electives. The students enroll in a curriculum that intertwines arts, humanities, mathematics, and science. He also states that the school doesnt have a lot of stuff like textbooks, extra furniture, or laboratory equipment. Most of the money that the school has for operations goes into staffing the school with well-trained teachers.

I found all of this to seem rather unbelievable, so I called the school on Monday. I talked with Pat Tudzolo who is involved with administration at Parker. She is sending me information about the school and the brochure that is used to inform students and parents about how the school operates. I asked her a number of questions. First I wanted to know what their enrollment was. She explained that their enrollment was 300 and was decided by lottery. Because of the low enrollment the teacher to student ratio is 1:12. I also asked how they accommodated their students with special needs. She explained that since each teacher is assigned to 12 students, the teacher handled all the special needs issues. The Director of Student Services is in charge of all IEPs. Right now 9% of the student population has special needs which is slightly higher than ours at ISD #361 which is about 10%. I asked what the pay scale was and she said that since they are part of the public school system, the pay scale was in line with theirs. This ranged from $26,000 to $50,000. I looked up their web page and took a look at the faculty list. I noticed that many of the teachers did not have Masters Degrees. She explained that many of their teachers were young and fresh out of school. This probably explains their eagerness to try a new teaching strategy like this. Finally I asked about their use of computer technology and she said that they have 60 computers for the students to use but they didnt offer any computer usage classes. Right now they are mainly being used to type papers and create presentations using PowerPoint.

I have also e-mailed James Nehring, the author of the article, but have not received a reply as of yet. I asked him to explain what it is like to teach in this type of setting and to explain the positives and negatives that he sees.

I think that this type of teaching situation sounds like a very great idea, but I can see that it would be difficult to get something like this going. For one thing, I think it would take some persuading to get a staff to buy into the idea. Also, since the staffing is limited, it would cause certain teachers to move into different areas.

I talked to a number of my colleagues about the article and got mixed emotions. They all agreed that to get something like this started would take a lot of time and convincing. It also raised concerns as to what teachers would do who teach the elective classes now. The idea of having planning time for teachers to be able to work and talk with other teachers seemed to be overwhelmingly approved by all. Im looking forward to receiving the brochure on the Parker School and Mr. Nehrings e-mail reply.

-- Anonymous, February 03, 1999

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