Sunday, November 27, 2011

4th Grade Student Standards vs. 4th Year Teacher Standards

One would think (and hope) there's been a bit of thought put into creating a framework for expectations of students at different grade levels (the Common Core Standards being the most recent incarnation). We don't just say "Here's all the stuff kids should learn. Make sure they are done by the time they finish high school."

Does this same differentiated framework happen with teacher development? In my experience, the answer is definitively no. I've never been given a choice during school/district run PD based on my experience/expertise. I rarely see PD that focuses on a teacher at a particular place in their career (some conferences have sessions specifically geared towards new teachers, but the idea of a session specifically geared towards a fourth year teacher just seems funny).

...which begs the question: Why is it normal to talk about something being fourth grade content, but ludicrous to talk about something being fourth year teaching content?


  1. Your district might be different, but my mom's school, the principal has been moving teachers around to different grades for years. Apparently he thinks it will keep teachers' skills fresh. So learning what you should teach in fourth grade will do you no good if, like my mom, you teach 4th grade for 3 years, then 2nd grade for 2, then 1st for another year, then back to 2nd grade, then up to 5th grade for two years... it's crazy!

    She has to basically start from scratch every year because they don't give her new books for her classroom library, they don't even give the teachers enough teacher manuals (there are two fifth grade math teacher manuals and three fifth grade teachers).

    In situations like that, teaching for a specific year won't do any good. It's a shame, because when I went to that school, the teachers had been teaching the same grades for 10-15 years and were excellent. Now, there is high turnover, less qualified teachers (since they need to be proficient at teaching everything for every grade), and the status of the school has dropped.

  2. @Jen: I'm talking less about teachers moving from one grade to another in terms of what they teach and more about teachers moving from one "grade" to another in terms of the development of their teaching. If we don't think it's appropriate for 1st graders and 11th graders to be in the same classroom, why is it the norm that teachers with 1 year of experience and 11 years of experience are in the same PD sessions?

  3. Hi Avery,

    My initial thought was to say that 1st graders are completely different developmentally than 11th graders, which is why it's wrong to think about educating them in the same way. Teachers are all adults, so they don't have the same sort of developmental difference.

    With further thought though, there's a lot more in common than I initially thought. There ARE many issues of development for teachers themselves that affect how receptive they may be to PD, much like teaching calculus to first graders might be. Telling a first year teacher to focus on asking higher order questions when they can barely keep attendance, a gradebook, and classroom management straight is a bit crazy, if not outright crazy. I think there are well defined stages of development in teaching - I've seen it both in myself and in colleagues. Only by sharing experiences have I seen that this is pretty common.

    I think the main reason why it does makes sense to have multi level groups together is because of the power of experience in teaching. Just one idea can make a difference, and the only way you get a diversity of ideas from which to pick the one that works for you is to get a good idea from someone who has been in your shoes and has grown from that point. There are lots of great ideas that come from a room of 2nd and 3rd year teachers, usually delivered with a great deal enthusiasm, for example. Sometimes it takes a more diverse set of voices to help direct that enthusiasm into a place where it can actually help improve classes for kids. On the other hand, a single voice of negativity (often at high volume) can also spoil the room.

    While teaching at KIPP, I really liked how district wide PD was run - we were able to choose which sessions we wanted to attend, and they tended to be pretty great. Unfortunately, the architects of most PD systems tend not to heed the advice they give teachers (read: forcefully inject) regarding the power of differentiation because, like the classroom, it is really hard to scale to a large group.

  4. I think I'm going to take it a step farther and say why separate 4th graders from 3rd or 5th grade? Students learn at their own pace. Just as adults do. A teacher in their 4th year may still be operating at the 1st year experience level, or may already be in the ranks of the master teacher. I say, keep the teachers together, but also keep the students together too. It might be normal to speak of 4th grade content, but why do we? We learn from eachother and are inspired by eachother. What one student finds interesting in 1st grade, another isn't interested in until 4th grade. So too with teachers.