By ROB BOCK
WASHINGTON (March 9, 2012)—In a roundtable discussion Friday at the U.S. Department of Education, Maryland's best teachers evaluated and discussed innovative ways to recruit, prepare, support, retain and reward teachers.
Twenty-two of Maryland's 24 2012 Teachers of the Year assessed the potential ideas with top federal education officials as part of the RESPECT—for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching—Project, a series of national conversations between federal officials and active educators to provide input on the Obama administration's 2013 budget proposal.
The proposal would allot $5 billion to a competitive program that would challenge states and school districts to work with teachers, colleges, and other education leaders to adapt the teaching profession to the 21st century.
"There was a real exchange of points of view and information that was critical," said Kathleen Jones of Galena Elementary School in Kent County. "The only way we can transform the teaching profession is from the inside out. And to have this kind of open-ended dialogue and ongoing involvement."
"We had been taking, I think, a piecemeal approach. This was an attempt to see if we could broaden the conversation," said Peter Cunningham, the department's assistant secretary for communications and outreach.
One of the ideas considered was a professional compensation structure that would support highly effective teachers and provide them incentives to collaborate and develop within the profession.
"The report said that some teachers 'fail to become effective but still remain in the profession, while other effective teachers leave because they feel unsupported and underpaid.' This is a very true statement," said Haroon Rashed of Atholton High School in Howard County.
Brian Freiss of Montgomery County's Highland Elementary School agreed.
"As teachers, we're not making much money. I think this document starts to address that," Freiss said.
Teachers suffer from a public perception that they are incompetent and underpaid, and that image hinders recruitment of talented graduates and professionals. The group discussed how to improve that reputation.
One of the most damaging statements made about the teaching profession, the roundtable agreed, was the George Bernard Shaw quote, "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches," first stated in 1903 and later adapted by pop culture in the movies "Annie Hall" and "School of Rock."
"We need a media campaign to boost public image of teachers," said Joshua Parker, the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year from Windsor Mill Middle School in Baltimore County. "We have to talk about what we have that's good, and focus on the positive."
The group also discussed ways to evaluate teachers and develop those who weren't up to par, and called for localized think tank-like groups teachers can use to collaborate and lead in new ways.
Though the discussion only lasted two-and-a-half hours, Cunningham said it will "unequivocally" impact the 2013 education budget proposal.
But the reforms, when they happen, won't just be the federal government's prerogative.
"States, districts, principals, teachers, all the changes that we're talking about, it has to come up from the bottom," Cunningham said. "Really, this change has to happen at the school and district level."