Leraarschap kan anders

Nieuws | de redactie
17 maart 2011 | Het vak van leraar is niet onveranderbaar of onverbeterlijk. Veel ontwikkelde landen kampen bovendien met dezelfde uitdagingen om het leraarschap op hoog niveau te houden. Daarom is het zo belangrijk dat landen meer van elkaar leren, aldus Obama's onderwijsminister Arne Duncan. Hij wil dat daar op voortgebouwd wordt, want “the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the single biggest in-school influence on student learning."

In een artikel in zijn blog op Huffington Post aan de vooravondvan een wereldwijde conferentie over succesvolle voorbeelden op ditterrein schrijft hij met OECD-topman Gurria en Fred van Leeuwen(general secretary van Education International) over ingesletenvooroordelen en interessante voorbeelden dat het anders kan. (ziehieronder of kijk op HuffPo)

‘Much of the conventional wisdom today about the difficulty ofelevating the teaching profession is mistaken or exaggerated. Manypeople believe that the challenges facing the teaching professionare largely unique to each nation. Others contend that the statusof the teaching profession in America and other countries islargely immutable, fixed by economic and social tradition. Or theybelieve that teachers unions are inevitable roadblocks to reform,rather than potential sources of knowledge and expertise.

We disagree with all three of these popular assumptions — whichis one reason why we have convened the first-ever internationalsummit on the teaching profession for high-performing nations andrapidly-improving countries on March 16 and 17 in New York City.The stakes for strengthening the teaching profession could not behigher: The quality of the teacher in the classroom is the singlebiggest in-school influence on student learning. And in theknowledge economy, the quality of student learning is one of thebiggest drivers of national growth, economic competitiveness, andsocial responsibility.

It’s true that every nation has unique characteristics of itsteaching profession. Few countries can simply adopt wholesaleanother nation’s system for recruiting, training, and compensatingteachers. Yet many high-performing nations share a surprisingnumber of common challenges to securing a high-quality teachingforce. Many top-performing education systems face looming teachershortages — and similar stumbling blocks to preparing, rewarding,and retaining top-notch teachers.

For example, the United States is not alone in seeking to updateits policies on the teaching profession to better prepare studentsfor the twenty-first century. For most of the last century, schoolsand the teaching profession in the U.S. have been organized like anassembly line, with teachers largely treated as interchangeablewidgets. Children were expected to learn routine cognitive skillsand content that would last a lifetime, rather than learninghigher-order thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skillsthat would help them be lifelong learners.

Teachers in the U.S. have typically been compensated basedsolely on their longevity in the job and their educationalcredentials — not for their impact on student learning, or forteaching in high-poverty and high-needs schools. In contrast to theU.S. and some other countries, top-performing education systemsencourage excellent teachers to teach the students who most needtheir help. And they provide teachers with more autonomy to helpstudents’ master higher-order skills, like adaptability,communication, and critical thinking, all of which are keys tosuccess in the information age. In every nation, the nature of theteaching profession inevitably reflects local economic and culturaltradition. Yet that does not mean that the teaching profession canonly undergo glacial change. Government policy can significantlystrengthen the teaching profession if that policy is based on anunderstanding of teachers and teaching and takes account of lessonslearned in high-performing countries.

Singapore now has one of the world’s highest-performingeducation systems — but it was not always so. In the early 1970s,less than half of Singapore’s students reached fourth grade.Teachers were hired en masse, with little attention to quality.Singapore soon identified teacher quality as key to improvingeducational outcomes — and government policy has been instrumentalin identifying and nurturing teaching talent. Today, Singaporeoffers teaching internships for top-performing students starting inhigh school. It carefully selects promising adolescents from thetop third of high school seniors and offers them a competitivemonthly stipend while still in school. In exchange, these teachercandidates must commit to teaching for at least three years andserving diverse students. After these bright, committed studentsundergo a rigorous teacher education program and become teachers,they receive 100 hours of professional development per year to keepup with changes in classroom instruction and to improve theirpractice.

Some believe that teachers unions are immovable stumbling blocksto reform, but the international picture tells a different story.Many of the world’s top-performing nations have strong teacherunions that work in tandem with local and national authorities toboost student achievement. In top-performing education systems likeFinland, Singapore, and Ontario, Canada, teachers unions engage inreforms as partners in a joint quest to advance and acceleratelearning. These high-performing nations illustrate how tough-mindedcollaboration more often leads to educational progress thantough-minded confrontation. Education leaders can better accelerateachievement by working together and sharing best practices than byworking alone.

Across the globe, education is the great equalizer, the oneforce that can consistently overcome differences in background,culture, and privilege. Increasing teacher autonomy andparticipation in reform is vital not just to improving studentoutcomes but to elevating the teaching profession. We reject theprevailing wisdom that it can’t be done.’

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education;Angel Gurría is the Secretary-General of the Organization forEconomic Co-Operation and Development; Fred van Leeuwen is GeneralSecretary of Education International, which represents 30 millionteachers in 171 countries and territories.

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