The Teaching Career
reviewed by Cynthia Carver - 2004
Each fall the teaching ranks swell with our newest recruits. Many will find joy and happiness in their new professional role and will continue to grow and develop into master teachers who remain devoted to their chosen career. But we will lose others for a variety of good reasons. Some will find their initial preparation inadequate for leading a classroom of their own. Others will find their particular placement a poor match for their skills, interests and professional commitments. Still others will grow disenchanted with parents who don’t seem to care, classrooms that are under-resourced, and accountability measures that discourage creativity and decision-making. Without the support of a well-trained mentor, sustained opportunities for meaningful professional development, and a school context that takes their learning seriously, a significant number of these new teachers will exit the profession for good (Ingersoll, 2001; Ingersoll and Smith, 2004; Kauffman, Johnson, Kardos, Liu & Peske, 2002).
With this as a backdrop, The Teaching Career reminds us that we have to do better at recruiting, preparing and supporting beginning teachers. Skillfully edited by John Goodlad and Timothy McMannon, this collection of essays illuminates the myriad variables that make this task so difficult and yet so necessary. While the plight of beginning teachers has garnered widespread media attention in recent years, much less notice has been given to the underlying causes of the problem, including a disconnected system of teacher learning that presumes an initial credential followed by a haphazard assortment of professional development offerings is sufficient for the demands of teaching all students well.
As the authors of this volume argue, to effectively recruit and retain new teachers we must strive toward greater coherence between pre-service preparation and ongoing professional development. In Goodlad’s words, the goal is to “enhance” and make more “career friendly” the pathway into teaching. Implicit throughout is the recognition that this work demands the shared attention of classroom teachers and school administrators, union leadership and university faculty – each an equal partner in the success of tomorrow’s teacher corps. This emphasis on forging new partnerships across institutional boundaries to create a more seamless system of teacher learning, including the full and active participation of the union, is the book’s greatest contribution.
This collection of essays grows out of the Strengthening and Sustaining Teachers (SST) initiative, a 5-year collaborative effort of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN), the Institute for Educational Inquiry (IEI), Bank Street College and the University of Washington. Piloted in Portland, Maine and Seattle, Washington, this ambitious project aims to build “sustainable systems of support” that begin during pre-service preparation and continue through the fifth year of teaching. As Patricia Wasley, Dean of the University of Washington’s College of Education and chair of the SST Coordinating Council, explains,
…the chapters in this book describe the issues that surfaced as we began our discussions about building such an ambitious and complicated system of support for teachers. Some of the chapters relate to the project specifically, and some examine in greater detail the issues that plague a beginning teachers’ life. Overall, they paint a picture of teaching as a challenging, complex endeavor for which initial preparation, however good, is not sufficient (p. ix).
And it is this phrase, “however good, it is not sufficient,” that rings clear across the pages of this book.
The Teaching Career opens with a set of essays by Roger Soder and co-editor Goodlad. Both remind readers that teaching is fundamentally a moral endeavor with political implications. Soder opens by countering the popular image of an independent and autonomous teacher, arguing that in reality, “teachers are enmeshed, inevitably and necessarily, in a web of complex and contradictory relationships that impinge directly and indirectly on their work as teachers (p. 4). Goodlad’s response serves as a call to action. As a common good, public education must be guided by a shared mission based on democratic principles. Key is bringing the various stakeholders – teachers, principals, union officials and university faculty – together around this shared mission.
In the chapters that follow we find detailed accounts of this work in action. Richard Barnes begins with the SST pilot in Portland, Maine where the partnership struggled in its early years to find common ground. Key in this site was learning to first see, and then value, the real concerns of each partner, especially those of the union. Heckman and Mantle-Bromley draw on their experience with school-university partnerships to argue for culture-change in both institutions. They conclude by offering three principles for guiding this change, foremost of which is a commitment to “agree that a primary purpose of the partnership is to challenge long-held beliefs and assumptions about their own and each other’s teaching and learning (p. 82). Katz and Feiman-Nemser trace the experience of two new teachers, each in quite different school settings, through their first year of teaching. Their account is a sharp reminder that schools need to become places where teachers learn alongside their students.
Sheldon Berman brings a first-person account of his district’s efforts to recruit and induct new teachers, as well as push those in their third through sixth year with professional development opportunities specifically designed to build teacher leader skills. Gillett and Urbanski, union advocates, present a compelling argument for unions to shift their focus from collective bargaining to teacher career development. In closing, the final chapters take a more reflective tone. Sahling and Whitford identify themes and patterns emerging across the two pilot sites, returning again to the importance of a shared mission. Notably, they also highlight the pivotal role played by the union in this work. In the final chapter, Richard Wisniewski brings us full circle, back to a moral imperative with political implications. Embedded in his message is a plea to patiently and persistently work toward change, for therein lies the hope of a professional pathway to teaching that draws on the best efforts of school, university, and union leaders.
Collectively, these chapters highlight the importance of a professional culture that transcends institutional boundaries, values teacher learning across the continuum, and nurtures new relationships based on mutual respect.Still, the book represents an eclectic mix of topics, e.g. school/university partnerships, new teacher induction, union role in supporting teachers; by a fairly diverse group of contributors, e.g. university researchers, deans of education, school superintendents. Thoughtfully prepared introductions to each chapter by the editors are immensely helpful in tying these various accounts together and reminding the reader of SST’s guiding mission: to pilot model systems of teacher learning that link preservice preparation to induction and ongoing professional development – a theme that easily gets lost in the details.
The book’s strength, however, is its ability to force a loss of innocence. Partnership work is immensely difficult and complex. Communication flounders, conflict emerges, and reluctance leads to set-backs. Thus the repeating refrain, “however good, it is not sufficient.” At no time does this book pretend that there are easy answers. For every leap forward, there are numerous steps back. Still, when the mission is clear and the parties committed, these chapters offer hope that progress will come to those who are patient.
And it is to that mission that we return. If we are to take new
teacher development seriously, we will need a system that
supports teacher learning along a career trajectory that begins,
but does not end, during the preservice years. Sharon
Feiman-Nemser, in a paper commissioned by the SST group, summarizes
the charge as follows.
Learning to teach, especially the kind of teaching reflected in ambitious standards for students and teachers, is a complex, lengthy undertaking. It requires coherent and connected learning opportunities that link initial preparation to new teacher induction and new teacher induction to continuing professional development. Creating a curriculum for learning to teach over time, anchored in a vision of reform-minded teaching, depends on the contributions of universities, schools and unions working as partners at each stage along the continuum (Feiman-Nemser, 2001, p. 1048).
As Feiman-Nemser goes on to claim, the need for a coherent system of teacher learning is clear, the task of accomplishing that goal is daunting, and yet there is no better time than now to begin. Readers of the Teaching Career will likely agree.
Ingersoll, R. M. (2001). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 499-534.
Ingersoll, R. M. & Smith, T. (2004). Do induction and mentoring programs matter? NASSP Bulletin, 88.
Feiman-Nemser, S. (2001). From preparation to practice: Designing a continuum to strengthen and sustain teaching. Teachers College Record, 103(6) 1013-1055.
Kauffman, D., Johnson, S. M., Kardos, S. M., Liu, E. & Peske, H. G. (2002). Lost at sea: New teachers’ experiences with curriculum and assessment. Teachers College Record, l04(2), 273-300.