Helping each other teach better
Last fall, Patricia Wasley, dean of the Graduate School at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, became one of the 63 members of the advisory board governing the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Dr. Wasley spoke to the Monitor about the NBPTS, which she hopes will fulfill her "greatest dream, that [teachers] will create a self-regulating profession."
Why did you become involved with the NBPTS?
I've followed the development of the [national] board since 1987, when it got started, and have been watching its progress closely, because in my own experience as a teacher I've felt disturbed by the distance between my voice as a teacher and the education policies that were developed at the state and national level. There was so little opportunity to use my experience to temper policy. I had hoped for a long time that we would develop a capacity to influence national policy, and ... [the board] provides that opportunity.
What are the strongest features of the candidate-certification process?
I have two favorite pieces. One is that [candidates] must videotape their own teaching and then write a reflective piece about what the tape reveals. Awareness grows as teachers get a chance to watch themselves teach. Also, [they] are asked to pull out pieces of student work and think about what this work reveals about the child. [They must write another essay explaining] what the assignment was, what the child did, what they know about the child that would enable them to make sense of what the child did, and some predictive work about what they need to do to help the child. This is very powerful. It teaches teachers about what works for students.
What are the weak points in the process?
Everybody on the board would love to be able to interview every candidate for certification, but the cost of the examination doesn't allow us that opportunity.
Some studies claim there is little relationship between teacher certification and student achievement. Do you believe NBPTS certification works directly to boost student achievement, and if so, how?
One needs to use logic when looking at the relationship between teacher preparation and student achievement. Suburban centers around large cities - like Chicago and San Francisco - have the highest-performing students in the country. These districts also have highly prepared teachers. They generally hire only teachers with master's degrees. They do not hire teachers with emergency certification. They don't hire teachers ... from institutions where requirements are low for teacher preparation.
Districts of highest need, where children come from impoverished backgrounds, where resources are skinniest, are often the places where it's hard to recruit prepared teachers. The most emergency-certified teachers in the [United States] are in the schools of highest need. Those are also places where scores are lowest. In a very obvious sense, it seems to us that teacher preparation does make a difference.
In creating a system of national certification, are there other countries the US is, or could be, using as a model?
I believe that what we are doing with the national board assessment process is unique. But in terms of the way teachers are treated and their careers are shaped, there are many things we can learn from other countries. Teachers in China and Japan, for instance, see far fewer students during the course of the day. They are given time to continue study in their fields and to prepare lessons. That's a luxury our teachers don't have.
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