The Transylvania Times -

By Jeanne DeJong
Everyday Education 

Teachers And The Great Economic Debate


Last updated 4/7/2014 at 8:54am

In February I had the privilege of attending the Emerging Issues Forum: Teachers and the Great Economic Debate: How do we train, retain and support world-class teachers in every classroom to secure NC’s future competitiveness? The forum, in its 29th year, was organized by The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) in Raleigh. Located on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, IEI is a “think and do” organization that believes that when people work together with a shared will and common vision (to ensure North Carolina’s future competitiveness), progress is smarter, more comprehensive and enduring.

One of Transylvania County School’s finest, Allison Hawkins, a BES, BMS, BHS alumni, Morehead-Cain Scholar, and UNC graduate is currently an Emerging Leaders Fellow at IEI and encouraged me to attend. After applying and receiving a scholarship as a Teaching Ambassador (sponsored by the Belk Foundation), I joined Jeff McDaris, Scott Elliott, Jeremy Gibbs, Claudia Hawkins, and 1300 teachers, administrators, business leaders, and political leaders from 97 of North Carolina’s 100 counties for two days of absorbing information from experts, collaborating in solution sessions and being energized by the many people who know that education is foundational to North Carolina’s future.

Ahead of the forum IEI gathered input from teachers, PTA members, superintendents, Schools of Education deans, and business leaders to uncover what it means to be a world-class teacher. Teachers that find the best ways to reach their students have the following characteristics: collaborator, innovator, driver, learner, facilitator, and advocate. During the forum, experts in education, politicians, former teachers, and business leaders shared information to address how to “train, retain and support world-class teachers in every classroom to secure N.C.’s future competitiveness.”

Amanda Ripley, investigative journalist for Time and The Atlantic and author of “The Smartest Kids in the World–And How They Got That Way,” and Pasi Sahlberg, director general, Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation in Helsinki, Finland, shared information on successful educational systems in other countries: Poland, South Korea, and Finland. These countries emphasize a commitment to highly trained teachers and a rigorous curriculum for students.

Raj Chetty, Bloomberg professor of economics at Harvard University, and Helen Ladd, professor of economics at Duke University, shared data on the effect of quality and experienced teachers on a student’s education and future earnings.

A panel discussion on recruiting the best teachers featured representatives from the Teaching Fellows program and Teach for America. It was noted that the legislature cut the N.C. Teaching Fellows program, a model for the country, and put $6 million into Teach for America teachers, who are only committed to a school for two years.

Panels addressed ideas for keeping the best teachers, emphasizing working conditions and mentoring. The importance of partnerships between schools and the business community and how that collaboration increases the quality of the workforce was shared by business leaders. Another panel discussed thinking about the teaching profession and school day in unique ways in order to maximize the strengths of teachers.

High profile speaker Daniel Pink, a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of several books, talked about what drives performance of teachers and students. Passion and warnings about the privatizing of the educational system in the United States came from Diane Ravitch, a national champion for public schools. Ron Clark, founder of The Ron Clark Academy, graduate of East Carolina University, and former N.C. teacher, excited the audience with his energy and message of the importance of teachers having autonomy in the classroom.

The political arena was represented by State Superintendent June Atkinson, Governor McCrory, and several members of the North Carolina General Assembly. Tennessee’s Governor William Haslam spoke about his state’s commitment to improving public education.

Education is a priority and seen as a way forward for developing a talented workforce, enticing businesses to move into the state of Tennessee. He stated Tennessee is one of only six states that have increased the education budget every year as a percentage of the total budget.

The most heart wrenching event of the entire forum was listening to well qualified former North Carolina teachers speak about their teaching careers, why they are leaving the profession, with the common threads of compensation, autonomy, and trust, running throughout. This “tweet” sums this part of the forum well: “Most moving session so far. Takeaway – we need to treat teachers like the professionals they are.”

During the forum participants broke out into four solution session groups, charged with coming up with reasonable action steps. The session topics were: (1) How can we design and fund a competitive compensation system that attracts and retains world-class talent in the teaching profession? (2) In what ways can we ensure that high performance standards for teaching are met from entry to retirement? (3) How do we ensure enhanced societal value and globally competitive students by elevating the status of the teaching profession in North Carolina? (4) How can we ensure access to comprehensive, high-quality and relevant professional development for teachers?

The top five ideas for action developed by attendees and online participants that are important to recruiting, rewarding and retaining world-class teachers in North Carolina are: Building Career Ladders — allowing teachers room for advancement and promotion without having to leave the classroom. Developing 11 Month Teacher Contracts—providing teachers more opportunities to plan, reflect, and pursue professional development — creating a more professionalized workforce.

Increasing Teacher Competitiveness — making entry into Schools of Education programs stricter, and making hiring more competitive can serve to strengthen the profession. Rebrand Teaching — making teaching a profession for the 21st century.

Emulate the Medical Profession’s Structure — by using peer-centered evaluation, building leadership roles, and creating lengthy internships and residencies, it is hoped that emulating the medical field can empower education.

Former Governor James Hunt ended the forum with this charge: “We can do a lot of good things if we work at it. And I want you to work at it! We need to hear your voice.”

The forum is over, but there is much to be done. IEI has created a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC-Ed), to keep the conversation going. This opportunity is free and open to all. Videos from the forum and many documents are available to peruse at your own pace. Discussion has started to develop a Community Action Team in Transylvania County to include teachers, administrators, business leaders, and county government representatives, to identify actions we can realistically implement in our community.

Consider how you might take action “to support world-class teachers in every classroom to secure N.C.’s future competitiveness.” If you have any questions, or would like to be part of a Community Action Team, contact: Jeanne DeJong, BES, [email protected]

(DeJong is a fifth grade teacher at Brevard Elementary School.)


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