Opportunities Knock

August 01, 1996 5 min read
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Although the term “professional development’’ typically conjures up images of half-day seminars and after-school workshops, these represents only a small slice of the kinds of learning opportunities available. Increasingly, reformers are urging teachers to participate in a richer array of activities. Here are some examples.

  • College Course Work. To fulfill state licensing requirements and to advance on salary schedules, most teachers take additional course work. Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi offers first-year teachers a course-work program aimed at strengthening their instructional skills and, more generally, improving their likelihood of staying in the profession. The program allows beginning teachers to take three university courses in areas of particular interest. A university supervisor observes each participant and later helps the new teacher design personalized plans for improving instructional skills. Contact: Vickie Moon Merchant, College of Education, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, 6300 Ocean Drive FC214, Corpus Christi, TX 78412; (512) 994-2437.
  • Summer Institutes. Summer break provides time for teachers to engage in in-depth study. Each year, the National Endowment for the Humanities’ division of education offers summer seminars for full-time teachers and other school personnel. The NEH grant program supports seminars focused on significant texts in the humanities. Recipients study topics ranging from political philosophy to Appalachian culture at participating universities around the country. Contact: Summer Seminars for School Teachers, Room 316, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20506; (202) 606-8463.
  • Fellowships. An array of fellowships gives individual teachers the chance to pursue topics of interest. The Christa McAuliffe Fellowship is a federally funded program that provides grants to states to reward outstanding teachers. Nationwide, about 60 to 75 fellows receive grants of varying amounts each year. Recipients can continue their educations, create course materials or specialized instruction programs, or engage in a wide range of other educational activities. Contact: Fellowship administrator at individual state offices of the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Higher-Education Collaboratives. When K-12 schools team up with experts in higher education, teachers gain access to new knowledge and professors gain new understandings of how to teach their students. The Pasadena, Calif., school district and the California Institute of Technology have joined forces to create a cooperative program known as the Pasadena Science Program, which offers in-service activities led by experienced teachers and scientists. During the summer, teachers can learn more about integrating science instruction into their teaching of math, reading, and other subjects. Teachers then introduce the curriculum into their classrooms with assistance from a science resource teacher. Contact: David Hartney, California Institute of Technology, (818) 395-3296; or Jennifer Yure, Pasadena Unified School District, (818) 791-8932. World Wide Web: http://www.caltech. edu/capsi.
  • Training Academies. Individuals or teams of teachers can visit these academies for short or extended periods of time to learn new teaching methodologies. In Cincinnati, the Mayerson Academy for Human Resource Development was established in 1992 as a partnership between the school district and its local business community. It strives to provide the highest-quality trainers and training, ensure appropriate follow-up and coaching, and use cutting-edge technology. This year’s core courses, offered in three eight-hour days, range from classroom management and cooperative learning to instructional alignment and school improvement. Contact: Larry Rowedder, President, Mayerson Academy, 2650 Highland Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45219; (513) 861-9684.
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The privately organized board, founded in 1987, has set out to establish a system of voluntary national certification for outstanding teachers. Candidates for certification spend months reflecting on their teaching practice, analyzing the work of their students, videotaping themselves, and working with their colleagues to prepare a portfolio of their schoolwork. They then take a battery of written assessments. Many of the teachers who have completed the process say it was one of the best professional development experiences of their careers. Contact: Joanne Kogan Krell, NBPTS, 300 River Place, Suite 3600, Detroit, MI 48207; (313) 259-0830.
  • Professional Development Schools. Many colleges and universities have teamed up with local school districts to open professional development schools, similar to teaching hospitals. These schools provide intellectually rich environments for practicing teachers. At Adelphi Elementary and Cool Spring Elementary in Prince George’s County, Md., student teachers from the University of Maryland’s college of education get experience in the classroom. But the school’s existing teachers benefit, too. The university professors regularly bring teachers together to discuss practical concerns and problems in the classroom. The professors direct the discussion, encourage other teachers to come up with creative solutions, and offer readings and resources. Contact: Linda Valli, Associate Dean, College of Education, Dean’s Office, 3119 Benjamin Building, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; (301) 405-0246.
  • Assessment Development. The push to find better ways to assess what students know and can do has created new professional opportunities for teachers. In Maryland, for example, teachers have been involved in writing “tasks’’ for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, which was first administered in 1991. They also score the assessments over the summer. In exchange for their work, teachers receive credit toward relicensure. The work gives teachers the chance to see what other Maryland teachers and students are doing. Contact: Steven Ferrara, Maryland State Department of Education, 200 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21201; (410) 767-0081.
  • Mentoring. Working closely with new teachers provides a chance for veteran teachers to share their expertise and knowledge and can help break the isolation that teachers can feel in their classrooms. Wichita State University in Kansas matches beginning special education teachers with experienced teachers in nearby school districts. Because they aren’t always in the same school, the new teacher and mentor often keep in touch by phone and meet every other week to attend a lecture, discuss concerns, and have one-on-one chats. Contact: Frances Clark, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Wichita State University, 1845 N. Fairmont, Box 28, Wichita, KS 67260-0028; (316) 689-3322.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1996 edition of Teacher as Opportunities Knock


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