Training and a 5 percent turnover rate for teachers

For at least the next decade, fewer and fewer newly trained teachers will be joining public school faculties. This will change the way school districts conduct their in-service programs. Updating curriculum and improving teaching methods will be the two most emphasized areas.

With 97 percent of its faculty tenured, 80 percent of these at the top step of the pay ladder, a turnover rate of less than 5 percent a year, and a declining student population, staff development in Princeton's public schools confronts this very problem.

''We are not alone in facing a 'graying' faculty,'' says the superintendent of Princeton's schools, Paul D. Houston. ''It's a question of timing. We're not that different, we've just gotten to it sooner.''

''We are locked into a situation where we cannot rely on new staff to bring innovative ideas into the district,'' says Paul Jennings, assistant superintendent.

''For us, one answer for teacher renewal lay in doing for teachers what we expected them to do for their students - inspire them to learn. This is the most important part of our in-service program,'' Mr. Jennings said.

He explained how what teachers are taught improves what happens in the classrooms:

''If we could provide high-caliber learning sessions for teachers, we knew we could then let teachers take this back to their individual classrooms.''

For the past two years the Princeton public schools have made the following efforts at teacher renewal:

* Obtained a state grant to develop classroom curriculum on global education. The grant, for $69,000 the first year and $40,000 the second, provides outside consultants and speakers.

* Set up two three-week summer seminar sessions on topics that are global in nature. Faculty receive compensation for attendance with funds coming from the grant. Personnel involved (37 teachers) will serve as the nucleus for curriculum development during the regular academic year.

* Set up 13 Wednesday afternoons during the school year with release time for in-service programs. The sessions run in two spurts, one for seven consecutive weeks in the fall and the other for six in the spring.

* Had all district personnel - faculty, administration, secretarial, and custodial - attend the half-day sessions. Some parents and members of the nonschool community are also invited.

Rowland Taylor, director of curriculum for the Princeton schools, says, ''I was amazed at the enthusiasm and community support generated by our involving nonstaff in the global-ed workshops.''

* Began long-range budgeting for staff development, making a commitment of $ 25,000 per year in a district with a total student population of 2,800 and a 13- 1 student to staff ratio.

(Gary Reece, Title IV consultant for the New Jersey State Education Department, notes that Princeton's commitment to considerable in-district funding was a key reason it was chosen for a curriculum development grant.)

* Hiring of a nondistrict, independent evaluation team to determine what individual teachers brought back into their classrooms from the in-service workshops. Their report will be issued to the school board and the state education department.

Jeff Brown, executive director of Global Learning Inc., an educational consulting firm specializing in in-service courses contracted by the Princeton schools, says, ''One of the main things we try to do can best be explained as the difference between training and teaching.

''We don't try and show teachers how to use a computer or calculator. We try and show them how the calculator, as one aspect of changing technology, changes the world their students will live in as adults, be it an issue of peace, food, the quality of life, inflation, or scarcity of natural resources.''

He adds: ''Teachers have preconceptions of Mickey Mouse in-service sessions. A good workshop must deal with any such negative residue from the outset.''

Andrea Martin, a sixth-grade science teacher, was at first surprised to discover that the summer session she participated in spent so little time on lesson plans and was ''more thinking about truly global interests, how the whole world is a system, and that what one country does is important to all.''

A conviction Ms. Martin brought into her classroom as a result of the summer workshop was that ''children must learn to feel confident that they can make a difference in the world. Schools must communicate this value to their students.''

Robert C. Parsons, president of the Princeton Education Association, offers a different perspective on the in-school Wednesday afternoon sessions. He is quick to mention that he did not attend the summer seminars, that he speaks from the vantage of the Wednesday afternoon sessions only, and that his observations are not meant to be critical of what Princeton is doing. He does feel the point he makes is valid for any school district contemplating teacher renewal.

''The most important commodity is time itself,'' he said, ''even without the direction given by global-ed discussions. If you give professional staff time to try and be innovative, you give them options and they will take advantage of this.''

His comments suggest what any teacher experiences when a particular lesson goes over well with students, but not necessarily for the reasons intended.

At Princeton, not only is the time provided for teacher renewal, but direction, content, and financial support are there as well.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.