New A.F.T. Program Seeks To Increase Teacher Expertise

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The American Federation of Teachers plans to get more directly involved in the "professionalization" of the teacher corps.

Moving from the role of expert witness on and champion of continuing training for teachers, the union proposes to "go beyond one-shot workshops," setting up programs that will deliver the training services it argues are most needed. The training will focus, union officials say, on the contemporary professional issues that most affect the working lives and the skill level of classroom teachers.

Albert Shanker, the union's president, disclosed the aft's new teacher-training venture during an interview with Education Week last week.

If teaching is to be professionalized, the union leader said, teachers must begin to develop expertise in such areas as textbook selection, assisting and reviewing new teachers, and restructuring schools.

"For the most part, teachers don't have [this expertise] now," Mr. Shanker said. "It would be very good if colleges and universities would develop programs in these areas--and maybe in the future they will--but I think this is an area in which teacher organizations should play an important part."

A model program for teachers seeking expertise in the area of textbook selection is now under development, Mr. Shanker said. And, though union officials said last week the program's design remains "sketchy" at this stage, the aft president said it should be launched within six months.

Bella Rosenberg, the aft's associate director of public relations, said plans include the development of training programs in "a few other generic topics of concern to every teacher." Possible areas, she said, include the methodology used in the teaching of reading, writing, and critical thinking.

Union involvement in teacher training is not new, noted Marilyn Rauth, the union's executive director of educational issues, but instruction on the scale now being proposed has not been attempted before.

"We are trying to establish a mechanism that goes beyond the traditional inservice training," Ms. Rauth said. "When the union provided training in the past, we made the same mistake the schools make by providing one-shot workshops. This was nice for raising consciousness, but it was not enough."

Ms. Rauth said the new program "is something we have wanted for a long time and have urged others to do, but since others haven't picked up on the idea we decided we should do it ourselves."

"We are still developing the actual training and dissemination process," she added. "We know that certain things need to be done, but we're still in the process of determining how best to go about it."

The training program, she said, will "provide teachers the opportunity to look at issues in depth." "No one changes practice through one- or two-hour sessions," she said. "It takes an extended period of time, using as much research-based material as possible."

Ms. Rosenberg said most inservice training is currently done by school districts--with little teacher input. The aft's proposed training, she said, would be driven by teachers, with a curriculum based on their professional needs.

"We're sending a signal that teachers are going to take their continuing education seriously and be in charge of it."

Union officials expressed the belief that the expertise teachers will gain through such an intensive, issue-oriented training program will enable them to make informed decisions and accept greater responsibility in a variety of areas.

During last week's interview, Mr. Shanker said the aft's existing "educational-research and dissemi-nation program," in place in more than 75 districts around the country, will serve as a model for the proposed training program.

Lauched in 1981 with a grant from the National Institute of Education, the research-dissemination program's mission is to translate education-research findings into information and skills teachers can use in the classroom. "Teacher research-linkers" are trained at the district level to use these findings in their classrooms and share them with their colleagues. The aft has assumed the cost of the program since 1983.

Having the dissemination mechanism already in place should make implementing the new teacher-training effort easier, according to Ms. Rauth. She said the new program is being developed with no special funding by the aft's educational-issues department.

Although the research and dissemination program has been limited to districts where the aft has a contract, Ms. Rosenberg expressed hope that the new program will "transcend" union lines.

Initially, she said, the aft will establish models in several of its districts that can be replicated elsewhere. "We wouldn't have patents on them. We hope they would spread and ultimately become part of the profession."

Commenting on the aft initiative, David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said teacher training is "a very appropriate place for teacher organizations to be working." Through such a program, he said, teachers would be able to learn from their organizations in much the same way lawyers and doctors "gain and learn from their professional associations."

Schools of education already offer training in such areas as textbook selection, Mr. Imig said, adding that the area of teacher-training and staff-development opportunities is currently large enough and active enough "for everyone to be involved."

"Our biggest challenge," he said, "is to get everyone to work together."

In his interview, Mr. Shanker said the union would rely on college and university experts for guidance in developing a curriculum for its model textbook-selection training program.

In recent months, leaders of both the aft and the National Education Association have advocated more intensive efforts to professionalize teaching. Both unions have also launched programs and floated ideas recently to achieve that objective.

Earlier this year, Mr. Shanker proposed a national teachers' examination for all new teachers, and this summer he suggested that "national educational specialty boards" be established to recognize outstanding teachers in various disciplines.

At its convention this summer, the nea voted to endorse the concepts of testing new teachers and dismissing those found incompetent. And, earlier this year, the nea launched its "Mastery in Learning Project,'' designed, in part, to increase teacher involvement in school decisionmaking.

Vol. 04, Issue 40 & 41

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