How can great teachers reach as many students as possible? One school is attempting to answer that question with a solution that seems blatantly obvious but also highly complicated: Have the best teachers play a role in multiple classrooms at once.
A recent NPR profile looks at Bailey Middle Prep, a STEM magnet school in Nashville, Tenn. One of the school’s strongest teachers and a regional Teacher of the Year, Whitney Bradley, is taking on a role as a “multi-classroom instructor"—one who teaches her own class while also advising other teachers throughout the day.
Designed with the help of Public Impact, an education management company that advocates alternative school staffing models, the school’s model involves creating new roles for teachers. The aim is that, instead of a simple choice between remaining a teacher or becoming administrators, teachers like Bradley will have opportunities for advancement while continuing to work primarily in the classroom.
A class at Bailey class might have an aide, a student teacher from nearby Vanderbilt University, or an “apprentice teacher” in addition to a more traditional teacher. Then there are team leaders like Bradley, who oversee several classes. The NPR piece describes her primary classroom as the go-to spot for teachers looking for advice:
Her colleagues seek her out for help. Her room is a hub. Teachers duck in with a quick question or ring Bradley's phone every few minutes. As a multi-classroom instructor, Bradley is like an infantry officer—in the trenches but in charge. Between calls, she teaches lessons that draw in every student. Then she lets her student teacher take over some one-on-one work while she helps a teacher next door with a discipline issue.
This expanded role, according to the NPR piece, is formalized in the teacher evaluation process. While most teachers’ evaluations are tied to the success of their own students, Bradley’s are based on the test scores of students from all of the classrooms she oversees.
Bailey’s system attempts to solve several problems at once. More students get the benefit of Bradley’s instruction, while Bradley gets a higher salary without having to leave the classroom. It’s a hybrid role of the sort that English teacher Paul Barnwell called for in an opinion piece for Education Week Teacher in February:
There are too many effective classroom teachers who, because they want new challenges and a sense of advancement, leave the most important work there is: working with students. ... Why aren't there more pathways for motivated educators to remain in the classroom but also pursue other roles? Why do we financially reward those who leave the classroom for administrative positions, when we hear over and over again how teachers have the most essential non-familial role in students' lives?
The approach Bailey has taken may not work in all schools—and presents a number of unanswered questions. Bradley’s ability to leave her classroom and work with other teachers relies on the presence of a student teacher to keep an eye on her own class, for one thing—a resource not all schools have access to or are willing to depend on with any regularity.
It’s also unclear what the effect is on Bradley’s students, who presumably have to get used to their teacher ducking out of the classroom or taking calls throughout the day.
And are there are a lot of teachers out there who are really interested in being evaluated on the basis of student test scores in classrooms that they aren’t heading?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.