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Positive Classroom Management Series

Positive Classroom Instruction

Chapter 13 - New Structures for the Teaching Profession

In April 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its report as an open letter to the American people entitled, "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform." The task force report created more than a stir within education-it created a major political issue for the 1984 presidential campaign within a month and a half of the report's release. The need for far-reaching educational reform had finally come out of the closet with a suddenness and urgency that caught most educational policy makers and politicians off guard. Since the spring of 1983 the competition among educators and national and state legislators to come up with a cure for what's ailing our public schools has reached the point of clamor.


By June 1983, both the major political parties were issuing policy statements which dealt with topics ranging from the length of the school year and the length of the school day to merit pay for teachers and major new emphases in curriculum. By September 1983, almost all the major news magazines had run upbeat cover stories on the reforms in education citing example after example of state and federal legislation pending or passed that addressed the "rising tide of mediocrity in our schools." Indeed, it would seem that perhaps education's long, hard winter of public apathy, criticism, and reduced support could at last be coming to an end. But the speed of the turnaround was impressive to say the least. If the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education can be viewed as the first sign of the long-awaited spring, it is amazing that it took only 2 months for the entire nation to come into full bloom.


Although many of the reforms being proposed are accompanied by laudatory rationales and although some of the proposals even have a chance of being successful, it is important to keep three basic realities in mind. First, basic change in an institution as large and inertia-bound as education is slow, costly, and hard-fought. Second, improvement in education ultimately takes place within the classroom. Although effective public policy can add momentum to many constructive trends within education, excellence is not achieved in Congress, in the State House, at the county level, or in the office of the district administration. Whatever legislative policies are passed, the major measure of excellence in education is that teachers learn to teach and manage their classrooms better. Third, presidential, congressional, and state elections are ever imminent, and much of the rush to legislate excellence must be viewed as election year politicking. If excellence in education is "in," then any politician in his right mind should be staying up late trying to draft an omnibus education reform bill. If omnibus education reform bills could reform education, we would not be in the shape we are in. And if reform could be done as rapidly as a stroke of a legislative pen, it would have been done long ago.


It is understandable that the sudden surge for educational reform will produce ail encyclopedia of quick cures. Many may seem to have merit, but none will be as simple as it at first appears. Organizational change is a subtle, difficult, and time-consuming process, and the mandate mentality is no more effective from the state house than it is from the district office. Indeed, many of the most sensible-appearing and straightforward cures for education being proposed at present address extremely complex issues which, if dealt with clumsily, could easily produce more harm than good. The present chapter attempts to deal with some of the most basic issues in the current rush to improve education so that they may be seen within a broader context of staff and organizational development: the delivery of the tools for educational excellence into the hands of the classroom teacher and the district administration.



There are two related but separate approaches to improving the quality of education quickly (apart from the curriculum) which are the first to occur to most concerned citizens, namely (1) getting rid of incompetent teachers and (2) merit pay for exemplary teachers. It is safe to say that most school board members, administrators, and politicians, to say nothing of the general public, think that having control over these two issues would produce quick and dramatic improvements in teacher performance. Ironically, both of these perennial favorites represent simplistic solutions to complex organizational problems, which are, for the most part, doomed to failure.


Weeding Out the Dead Wood

Collaborative versus Adversarial Leadership When an organizational leader expresses his or her leadership mandate by attempting to "weed out the dead wood" as the initial focus of his or her leadership without a major prior investment in team building and professional growth, the faculty unites around the attacked colleague irrespective of the issue of excellence. The group will then organize for self-defense and raise as many obstacles to the removal of the attacked colleague as possible. The result is a form of warfare between adversaries with a rapidly increasing cost to every one, concurrent with rapidly decreasing flexibility on the part of administrators in dealing with weak teachers, The whole thing may eventually end up in court; the district rarely wins and the lawyers take the money. Meanwhile, the leader of this naive attempt to produce quick reform will have spent a great deal of time and energy with the net result being a polarization of the work group.


Team Building and Professional Growth Ironically, the attack on the weak teacher is not only destructive to organization building in most cases, but it is also an inefficient way to improve the mean level of the performance of the work group. The leaders will produce a much greater increase in the performance of the group if they help fifteen fairly competent teachers to improve than they will by getting rid of one or two incompetent teachers.


The primary focus of organization building for leaders, therefore, should be to build a growth process in which the majority of the group joins in a common professional development effort that substantially improves group performance and morale. It is the job of leadership to build group cohesiveness around the shared focus of achieving excellence rather than to destroy group cohesiveness through adversarial behavior.


As the process of professional growth and the camaraderie which accompanies it become more established, the inept teachers, rather than being the center of social cohesion, will become more and more peripheral to the group process. They will be voluntarily omitting themselves not only from professional development opportunities but also from the extensive social interactions associated with them-a context of working together that is not only rewarding but also associated in the minds of the peer group with being a good teacher.


Supervision and Feedback In addition to team building, part of the principal's job is evaluation and feedback. When, however, it is possible for principals and teachers to live in separate worlds free of the systematic pursuit of excellence, supervision and feedback are for the most part institutional irrelevancies. In years past, plant managers have commonly had teachers fill out their own evaluations, glad to be freed of meaningless paperwork. Mandatory classroom visits once or twice a year by principals rarely produced incisive comments concerning the quality of teaching. To get a negative review there had to be a riot going on, a comatose teacher, or a bulletin board done in shades of gray.


Now the age of the instructional leader is upon us and principals are going in droves to workshops and seminars on "clinical supervision." Such training has done much to give principals a sense of what to look for in a classroom, how to document what they see, and how to give verbal feedback to teachers. Such workshops and seminars, however, are usually fairly brief, large-group affairs that lack the capacity to train principals in high-level clinical skills (as the name would imply). Consequently, principals typically revert to type when giving corrective feedback and lace their remarks with more than a few "yes-but compliments" and "helpful criticisms."


Their skills of clinical supervision all too often degenerate into mixing criticism with enough praise to sweeten some of the resultant bitterness. The result of such clinical clumsiness, predictably, is a considerable amount of awkwardness and discomfort on the part of the supervisor and frequent defensiveness on the part of the teacher.


The most common problem with clinical supervision is that it is typically based on poor instructional practice. To put it simply, it typically employs the universal helping interaction. And why not? The universal helping interaction has been invisible in the classroom up until now, so why should it be any different in the instruction that goes by the name of supervision? The job of the universal helping interaction is to find the problem and fix it. It begins with a deficit diagnosis and proceeds to corrective feedback by way of a prescription for remediation. Even when amply padded with praise, the typical supervisory session often becomes a prolonged, awkward, and often painful yes-but compliment.


In the Classroom Management Training Program there is no differentiation in training between teacher and administrator. Not only must administrators understand the program and visibly support it by being part of the training team, but they must also use it in carrying out their role of instructional leader. They must not only know what to look for in precision teaching and classroom management skills when observing a classroom, but they must use those same teaching skills in supervision. They must always give corrective feedback, and they must sometimes teach a structured lesson from scratch in the process.


An example may be helpful at this point. A particular junior high principal in Virginia had been trained along with several of his strongest teachers to be a trainer in the Classroom Management Training Program. During the following year, all teachers at the school site who wished to participate in the program went through training and participated in the continuation groups that follow training. The principal skillfully put the program on the front burner at the school site and kept it there, producing a high rate of volunteerism. But, predictably, a few of the "chronic bitchers and moaners," to use the principal's words, flatly refused to have anything to do with the program.


Rather than directly confronting this negativistic behavior, which would have only produced more of the same, the principal used his coaching skills within a tutorial context. He visited the classroom of one of his more negativistic male teachers and scheduled a feedback session as was customary. In the feedback session the principal carefully described the strengths that he had observed in the classroom and then made his transition from praise to prompt ("The next thing to do is . . . ").


"You know, Henry, one of the things I liked, as I mentioned, was your getting around to different students when they were working independently in order to help them with their work [The actual number was four]. Is there any way we can make that job easier for you by cutting down the amount of walking you have to do - by arranging the furniture so you don't have to walk around so many obstacles to get where you want to go'! If we can come up with a room arrangement that allows you to get around easier, I'll talk to Bob, the custodian, so he'll leave it that way."


Some brainstorming produced a much-improved room arrangement, and the principal walked down to the teacher's room to help shove furniture around as the two continued to discuss the subject. During the following week, several brief conversations with the teacher in the hall not only confirmed that the new room arrangement had helped but also kept the whole issue on the front burner. A week or so later the principal visited the teacher's room again and scheduled another feedback session.


"Henry, it looks a whole lot easier for you to get around in there now, and I think you are able to help the kids more often as a result. Today I'd like to focus on a way of getting around even faster so that we can help kids more often and, in particular, get to kids as soon as they feel stuck before they start goofing off.


Here's what I have in mind. Our objective will be to help a kid who is stuck as quickly and efficiently as possible. We'll try to make the interaction as simple as possible so it takes less than a minute. Then nobody will be on hold long enough to get into trouble. Besides, you'll be able to move often enough so that you'll be looking over the kids' shoulders all of the time."


The next several supervisory sessions were spent on the positive helping interaction, and then the focus shifted to illustrated performance sequences. Pretty soon they were talking about limit-setting on the wing and remaining calm when a kid mouths off.


"You know, it took some time," said the principal, "but I got old Henry through almost all the program, and it really helped him. The kids had been giving him a pretty hard time before. And we got to know and trust each other. I actually think he looks forward to our supervisory sessions. In fact he said so once. But he still says he won't have a damn thing to do with the Classroom Management Training Program. That's just Henry. If it looks like the thing to do, he'll do the opposite. But he got it anyway." Evaluation and feedback are crucial facets of the instructional leader's role. But, unless these functions are carried out within a context of correct instructional methodology, they will be handled within a context that is fundamentally incompatible with psychological support. The result is teachers who see evaluation and feedback as threatening - a perception that ultimately makes the job of instructional leadership difficult If not impossible. The basic skills and the value system inherent in positive classroom instruction must ultimately reverberate to the top of the organizational hierarchy because good supervision and leadership are good teaching. The classroom is not a unique context nor is the principal's role unique. Getting people to do things right with a positive attitude and high group morale pervades all levels of organizational life. It requires not only correct basic methodology but a way of thinking about all people as potential learners.


Facing the Issue of Nonperformance If we can keep staff development from being stigmatized by either adversarial behavior or by the "deficit model" which associates staff development with needing help (see previous chapter), principals will have increased flexibility in dealing with the weak teacher. They will, in fact, spend a larger share of their consulting time with weak teachers since the strong teachers do not need to be continuously held by the hand when working toward professional development goals. With weak teachers a principal may spend a great deal of time clarifying values and objectives, helping the teachers find growth-producing experiences, and evaluating efforts to change. Since the goals and means of professional growth are always a collaborative effort between principal and teacher, the principal can constrain the range of choices to be within the teacher's areas of immediate need.


But, how does a principal get rid of a truly incompetent teacher who either does not try to improve or does not seem capable of improving? Do you get rid of her by "taking her to the mat?" If so, what steps precede confrontation that make the process as humane as possible?


The Accelerating Quality Control Cycle If a teacher needs to leave the teaching profession, it is the principal's obligation to help her or him out-to help with firmness and compassion until the necessity of job change is painfully obvious to all. Helping a teacher Out of the teaching profession should be viewed as a matter of due process in which the teacher is given every possible opportunity to grow. Yet, while principals collaborate in providing every possible opportunity for growth, they are also the chief quality control person on the school site, and the buck stops with them. They are both obligated to provide a real opportunity to grow and forbidden to accept incompetence.


In practice, these two tasks of giving help and quality control are expressed for the principal in terms of a cycle of (1) goal setting, (2) staff development, and (3) evaluation-a quality control cycle which simply increases in rate over time in the case of the particularly needy teacher. Goals are set, steps are taken to help the teacher grow, and observation and evaluation follow. This fundamental process of systematic professional growth is no different in form for the weak teacher than for the strong teacher since everyone is always involved in staff development without implication of deficit. Weak teachers are different only insofar as they call attention to themselves by their lack of progress.


Only when no growth is taking place does the rate of the quality control cycle increase. Evidence of nonperformance produces a redefinition of goals and a more informed and detailed selection of additional means of growth. Participation in some kind of growth opportunity is followed by more frequent observation which is followed by an additional cycle of goal clarification and goal attainment planning. Over time the cycle accelerates so that much of the principal's and teacher's energies are concentrated on the attempt to achieve growth. With such scrutiny the attainment of growth will be as obvious as the failure to attain growth.


Although the quality control cycle has a cost in terms of the principal allocating time and resources, it has a corresponding cost to the weak teacher who must also allocate time and energy. At some point either the teacher will stop stonewalling, or it will become evident to everyone that the teacher is either incapable or unwilling to grow. When such a realization begins to dawn, the teacher in question will experience pain. That pain may be expressed in a variety of ways, but it is usually evidence of a life crisis that is long overdue.


Existential Choices and the Chickens That Come Home to Roost The choice of one's profession is a profound existential decision, a search for personal meaning through one's work. Staying in a profession in which you are ill-suited and not succeeding is a pain-producing act of existential cowardice. When the chickens finally come home to roost, there will be pain. When the pain becomes evident, it is the principal's role to become counselor, not adversary.


The issue of competence is not negotiable. When avenues of change have been explored and found useless, the agenda is unavoidable. The principal has to say, "It's not working. Classroom instruction is not for you. Where do we go from here?"


Many times the principal begins a process of job counseling that can then be assumed by other professionals within the district. Sometimes they will just take heat from a scared and resentful individual. Sometimes teachers find other roles within the school organization, and sometimes they simply find a doctor who signs the papers that get them disability due to stress. Sometimes the teacher for the first time deals with the fact that he or she made the wrong career choice. In any case, the principal's role is that of counselor within the framework of being the person responsible for quality control at the school site. The buck stops with the principal, but the school board must empower principals to do their job gently, systematically, and humanely. You do not run people out of the teaching profession. You help them out, because anyone who is leaving needs help. Dealing with an incompetent teacher must ultimately be a humane endeavor or the unavoidable pain and associated costs will be multiplied for all parties involved.


Merit Pay for Exemplary Teachers

There are two possible rationales for merit pay: (1) thanking good teachers and (2) providing an incentive system which produces an improvement in performance for members of the profession. Traditional methods of merit pay say thank you to the excellent teachers in a school system, but they typically fail to serve as an incentive system for professional development.


Merit Pay and Incentives for Excellence

Problems of Reward To help understand why traditional merit-pay schemes tend to fail as incentive systems; it may be helpful to consider a common practice-rewarding car salespeople when they win a regional competition for having the most car sales. Imagine, for example, that a major automobile manufacturer offers a trip to Bermuda for the three top salespeople in a given region. Does that incentive improve the performance of the average salesperson? The answer is probably not. Why?


Let's imagine that there are 100 salespeople in the region. To begin with, five or ten of them are not only talented but also chronic workaholics. They have been sharing the top honors for the past several years, and everybody else in the region knows who they are. Before the contest even starts, the vast majority of salespeople have already quit because they have no intention of giving up all their nights and weekends, their spouses, children, hobbies, and sports to try to win a contest that they will probably lose anyway. Thus from the very outset of the contest, the three trips to Bermuda are probably serving as incentives for maybe ten salespeople while everyone else goes about their jobs as they see fit.


In addition, the trip to Bermuda is not until next February, which is 10 months away. Delay in reward greatly undermines its potency. Consequently, the automobile company is asking a typical salesperson to give up dinner with his family tonight and stay until 9:00 p.m. doing paperwork in order to have a chance to earn a reward that won't even be announced for another 10 months. For most people such a reward is simply too distant and too tenuous to be worth the price.


Thus, although the trips to Bermuda might engage the top 5 to 10 percent of the sales force, and although the incentive may be regarded more or less positively by the rest of the sales force as a genuine attempt on the part of the company to say thank you, the incentive does not function to generate different work habits on the part of the vast majority of employees. It is not a motor for behavior change-a functional incentive system for the achievement of diligence and excellence on a broad scale.


To get back to schools and classrooms, if you were to poll the faculty of a school by asking them what teachers on their faculty would probably receive merit pay, they would tell you. They know who is outstanding. There are very few secrets among the members of a school faculty. Therefore, why would large numbers of teachers reorganize the way they teach, go to the effort of learning new skills, spend extra hours in the evening preparing lessons, and change their methods of discipline management for a reward they know they will probably never get?


Problems of Accountability In addition to problems of operating an incentive system that adequately rewards large numbers of teachers, there is the problem of operating an incentive system correctly so that it does not self-destruct. In our discussions of incentive systems in both Positive Classroom Disciplineand Positive Classroom Instruction we have focused repeatedly on the issue of the cost of accountability. For an incentive system to succeed, the assessment of the behavior that is to be rewarded must be strict, accurate, and affordable. It must be viewed by participants as valid. If assessment is not accurate and fair, it will not only cause participants to become disillusioned with the incentive system and stop participating, but it will also produce ill feelings among those who did not receive rewards and felt unfairly judged.


Merit pay in its traditional form is consistently opposed by teachers when they feel that the assessment will be quick and dirty, that is, when it will be performed by an administrator such as their principal who in the teachers' minds cannot tell good teaching from bad and who has both favorites and unfavorites on the faculty. Unfortunately, the teachers are all too often right in this perception and will continue to be right for a long time to come. The supervisory expertise and evaluative sophistication needed to operate a straight merit-pay system does not exist in the field now and will not exist for decades even if all the money in the world were allocated to merit pay tomorrow.


Thus, although traditional forms of merit pay may say thank you, they are among the most inefficient ways of altering the way in which the majority of teachers teach. In fact, as mentioned earlier, most of the faculty will not even compete for merit pay. And those few who do compete for it but fail to get it will often feel wronged. Thus, the research shows that merit pay typically generates ill feelings among the faculty and is typically abandoned because it is more trouble than it is worth.


Professional Development and Service Pay

Extra Pay for Extra Work Although it is very difficult to create a meritocracy based on simple money rewards, it is fairly easy to create a meritocracy based on extra pay for assuming added professional responsibilities for which people have been specially trained. Since the extra work of added professional responsibilities is quite tangible, colleagues rarely resent the extra pay that the extra work produces. And, if a potentially large number of teachers can have access to varying amounts of extra pay for extra work, we have the basis for an incentive system that will in fact be a motor for producing widespread behavior change and professional growth.


Although there are many ways for teachers to make a special contribution to the functioning of a district, one of the ways most relevant to increasing professional excellence is to assume the role of trainer in a systematic staff development program which almost by necessity will employ a trainer-of-trainers model. Administrators should in all cases choose their trainers from among their best teachers, and being trained to be a trainer will equip those teachers with special professional expertise.


Initial experience with the trainer-of-trainers program allows the trainers to decide whether or not they enjoy the training experience enough to continue with it, and it gives supervisors a chance to decide whether that person is working out as an effective trainer. During the first year, the reward for the trainer may be the luxury of receiving expensive high-level training for free (at the district's expense) and trying his or her wings in a new role. By the second year in which a teacher functions as a trainer, he or she should be earning extra pay for the extra work. Such pay is, however, service pay rather than merit pay in the traditional sense.


Mentors and Master Teachers Programs presently being proposed, which attempt to reward exemplary teachers while sidestepping the traditional pitfalls of merit pay, are for the most part service-pay systems. In such programs teachers who receive extra stipends for disseminating their special skills throughout the district are usually referred to as "mentor teachers" or "master teachers." The mechanics of such service pay systems are still in their formative stages, but the major design issues and potential problem areas are plain enough.


1. Who gets to say who is a master teacher, and what are the criteria of selection?


In most programs presently being considered, teachers are typically nominated by a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators to receive added pay for serving as mentors for new teachers or as master teachers who disseminate their special skills throughout the district. This system of "consensual validation" often works quite well when small numbers of teachers are being chosen-teachers whose reputations precede them in the selection process and thereby confer validity upon the selection. The selection process will be held to closer scrutiny and criticized more on grounds of validity as soon as larger numbers of teachers are enfranchised into the service-pay system. In order to create both the substance and appearance of validity of selection, there will be increasing pressure to replace consensual criteria of selection with "empirical validation." At that point the cost of accountability in our incentive system increases dramatically.


2. How many teachers can be mentors or master teachers? Will many teachers be enfranchised, or will there be just an elite few?


One of the most obvious means of cost containment is elitism. Indeed, few of the mentor- or master-teacher programs presently being proposed enfranchise more than a few percent of the total teacher population into the service-pay system. Even such a limited effort can produce large dividends if carried out properly, but the eternal "Why should I?" must still be answered for many if they are to make their special contributions to excellence.


3. What approach to skill dissemination will be used if mentors and master teachers are to train their peers?


The fact that teachers are exemplary in their classrooms does not mean that they can systematically reproduce that expertise. Perhaps the Achilles' heel of all mentor- or master-teacher programs presently being proposed is the naive assumption that mentor teachers (1) can accurately describe the skills that make them excellent and (2) can convey those skills to their colleagues without making them defensive and resentful. A decade and a half of perfecting trainer-of-trainers methods in the field began with a couple of lessons in the school of hard knocks that I have never forgotten: Exceptional teachers are almost powerless to describe at a high level of precision exactly how they manage a classroom and their colleagues get extremely defensive and petty as soon as a "master" teacher presumes to give them advice.


How carefully, then, will the process of disseminating expertise be attended to? Will a quality delivery system be slowly and carefully built in which master or mentor teachers can function effectively? Or will we once again simply turn a blind eye toward the most difficult aspect of staff development and hope for the best?


Before service-pay schemes are ironed out in the many school districts across the country interested in such programs, a considerable amount of trial and error will take place. As I travel, I already find effective principals worrying aloud that their less effective administrator colleagues will probably make mentors into assistant principals if given the chance. In some other districts teachers with the most seniority are hinting that they are the natural choice for the role. I find superintendents anxious about dissension and hurt feelings because the criteria of selection are so fuzzy and because the issue of extra pay is already making the composition of the selection committee a political football.


In localities where there has historically been a strong staff development apparatus, however, often in the form of a federally funded teacher center, a state or county professional development center or a staff development institute within a larger district, I find a remarkably smooth and sensible process of evolution developing. In localities where systematic staff development has a history of several years and where many of the best teachers have already served as trainers in at least one and often several quality trainer-of-trainers programs, these experienced trainers are emerging as the natural choices for the mentor- or master-teacher roles. They are the obvious choices because they are in effect already serving as mentors and master teachers and have demonstrated mastery of the complex skills required for successful peer training.


There is no substitute for systematic staff development based on the unhurried development of a district's best talent if a multileveled meritocracy is to be built in education. Without such a planned development process the selection of mentors and master teachers often resembles anointment more than career advancement, with some strange sideshows being created in the process. In contrast to the impatience built into legislative solutions to the "rising tide of mediocrity," excellence must be carefully built rather than mandated.


Built-In Resistance It is ironic, as I travel and train teachers, to repeatedly deal with administrators and school board members who are on the one hand considering merit pay programs in their districts and who are on the other hand unwilling to pay my CMTP coaches extra money for the extra preparation and training time that goes into a quality trainer-of-trainers program. Many districts even have a policy forbidding extra pay for work after hours. Suggesting such an innovation brings dark looks and serious concern over setting a dangerous precedent.


Indeed, the teaching profession has had a long history of exploiting the enthusiasm of teachers who are willing to go the extra mile. Unfortunately, as we have learned in previous sections, in human affairs there is no such thing as a nonincentive system. When teachers do extra work and are not rewarded for it, they are placed on systematic extinction for doing that extra work. Without service pay of some kind, the day will come when the extra work will be done no more.



It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit the more capable college students into the teaching profession. Apart from inadequate pay and low status in the eyes of the public, one of the chronic criticisms of the teaching profession is that it is a dead end profession with no career ladder-no continuing challenge or widespread opportunity for assuming greater responsibility with pay to match.


Teaching, unfortunately, is not seen as a profession at all by the general public and, in particular, by school boards. Rather, it is generally viewed as simply a job in which you will be doing the same thing the week before you retire that you did the day after you were hired.


Staff Development and Avenues of Enrichment

If money is going to be spent on rewarding excellent teachers, far better to use it not only to reward excellence but also to build excellence-to build a career ladder which provides career development for career teachers, incentives for excellence, and extra pay for extra service. Exceptional teachers should be developed as the primary human resource of the school system. Rather than (or in addition to) being given extra pay for being excellent teachers to start with, teachers should be given special opportunities to grow professionally and demonstrate professional competence. Once that special competence has been mastered and demonstrated, they should be paid extra money for spreading that competence throughout the district.


The concept of service pay, therefore, is closely tied to a conceptualization of staff development within a school district as a long-term, programmatic enterprise worthy of the allocation of considerable resources. Both professional development on a districtwide basis and the development of a career ladder which is needed to attract and keep highly competent individuals within the teaching profession are in fact one integrated program.


Avoiding the "Peter Principle"

One additional advantage of service pay as opposed to merit pay is its tendency to be a natural antidote to the "Peter Principle." Traditionally, the only way to achieve career advancement and increased pay within education has been to leave the classroom and go into administration. Thus, many talented teachers have been siphoned away from the classroom, often into jobs for which they were less enthusiastic, less competent, and/or less prepared. According to the Peter Principle, people rise within an organization until they achieve their level of incompetence at which point they remain. That is, if people succeed at one job, they may be asked to advance up the professional ladder to the next rung. If they succeed at the second job, they may move up the ladder to a higher level and then to an even higher level until they finally do poorly at a job. Once they fail at a job, they are no longer asked to move up. Rather, they are passed over for advancement and remain where they are indefinitely.


Service pay keeps good teachers in the classroom. Indeed, it is inconceivable that a teacher could be permanently removed from the classroom to be a trainer of advanced educational skills and remain sharp in the use of those skills. A trainer-of-trainers program all but requires the trainers to stay in the classroom at least part time using the skills, honing their expertise, and solving problems in order not only to stay sharp and grow but also to help colleagues in continuation meetings. There is always a dialogue between the skills and concepts of a professional development program and the experience of handling management dilemmas within the classroom on a day-today basis. The result is professional growth quite apart from the formal training of the program proper. In conjunction with continuation meetings, quality professional development produces a process in which day-to-day innovations by teachers are constantly fed to colleagues through "the pipeline."



The time-on-task literature would certainly imply that the longer students work, the more they learn. It is also obvious from a comparison of the numbers of days students in the United States and those in other nations spend in school that we spend fewer days in class. It is a logical conclusion, therefore, that lengthening the school year will produce more learning. Indeed, it should produce more learning as should a lengthening of the school day. Whether the money could have been better spent in other ways, however, is a separate issue.


As a result of teacher training, we have documented a near doubling of academic productivity in the bottom half of a typical classroom, and teachers consistently report rapid increases in the rate of learning because of the use of performance models alone. Owing to responsibility training we typically have students in their seats working when the bell rings which saves us 5 minutes at the beginning of every period, and we typically reduce lesson transitions to 30 seconds which saves us over 4 minutes per lesson transition in a typical classroom. Thus by the use of some advanced classroom management procedures, a well-trained teacher is already generating between a half hour and an hour per day of extra instructional time.


The bill for paying teachers to work 20 extra days per year will be in the billions of dollars nationwide, and the lengthening of the school day will not be free in the long run either. Although our school year may be too short, I would hope that we think in terms of quality and not just quantity when looking for cures for the "rising tide of mediocrity." It would create many more hours of learning during the school year for teachers to have advanced management skills at their disposal than it would to just add more days. If legislators are contemplating spending billions of dollars for increased time on task, they might well consider using a few of those extra days for training teachers so that during the following year their investment could produce benefits in the classroom every day.


To state my case in somewhat different terms, if we are going to invest in excellence in education in a major way, let us have the wisdom to invest in the process of education - to build a delivery system for the teaching of basic subjects that is far superior to what presently exists. Quality staff development can take place on a nationwide basis if there is a predictable market for it that would provide the incentive for the development of widespread professional expertise in that area. Unless such a clear and long-term commitment to quality staff development is made at a national level as well as at the state, county, and district levels, the most predictable outcome of the present enthusiasm over educational reform will probably be a coopting of extra moneys by the educational establishment into more business as usual.



In all the discussions of reform within the American educational system and in all the various commissioned reports, one group of educators gets off with amazingly light treatment. Reports inevitably include sentences concerning the need to upgrade teacher training at colleges and universities, but rarely does the specification of reform go beyond this amorphous statement of need.


In juxtaposition to this rather passing concern with the quality of teacher training at colleges and universities is the glaring dissatisfaction with teacher training programs at colleges and universities which is universally expressed by the teachers I train. I will ask a group of several hundred teachers to raise their hands if any of their methods courses ever did them any good once they took a job. No one raises a hand. I ask teachers and administrators to describe the relevance of their methods courses, and the main adjective they use is "Mickey Mouse." Teachers express bitter resentment at having paid thousands of dollars for tuition and expenses to receive a professional degree which ended up having almost no relevance to their professional life. Instead, they walked onto the job with no professional skills apart from the social skills they possessed anyway and "took it in the teeth" until, with a huge expenditure of adrenaline and stomach acid, they finally pieced together over several years' time some semblance of a methodology for managing a classroom that allowed them at least to survive on the job.


How can a profession expect to achieve excellence if the major professional training opportunity is squandered so that teachers walk onto the job with virtually no functional job skills? How can we expect districts to have funds to totally retrain their staffs when the general public assumes that teachers were already trained when they took their first jobs? And how can you easily engage teachers in retooling their professional skill repertoires after they have already spent 15 years in the school of hard knocks? Quality professional development will always need to be a permanent, ongoing part of any living profession. But the first major professional development opportunity is at college, and it is a crime to waste it.


It would, in fact, be easy to make a rather strong case that higher education is one of the major weak links in the entire educational system. Universities have the captive students eager to learn, the financial backing of federal and state governments and the students' parents, and the time with which to make teachers, at least in a preliminary fashion, out of nonteachers. But instead they get Mickey Mouse.


Yet undergraduates express no dissatisfaction. They are not informed consumers. They do not know what they are walking into. Only the teachers who have been out for several years express to me the deep abiding bitterness at their methods courses taught by professors who had not been near an elementary or secondary classroom since they graduated from high school.


It is sad and rather ironic that higher education, which holds a near monopoly on teacher preparation, gets such a light rap when the entire nation is seemingly upset with the lack of preparation of its teachers. Perhaps the high-sounding commission reports would sound different were they written by practicing teachers instead of the deans and professors of the very faculties that perpetuate the existing process of teacher preparation.



The nation is at a turning point in its understanding of the education process and in its commitment to excellence in public education. Turning points, however, are not only great opportunities but also awesome responsibilities, for they do not come frequently and they do not last long. A turning point missed is at least a decade missed. If our reforms are quick and easy, their effects will be superficial and their legacy will be disillusionment. Yet, if we ask the more difficult questions and seek the more difficult remedies, sacred cows are threatened and howls of discomfort are heard throughout the educational establishment.


I have become convinced in my years of daily working with teachers that they, more than any, resent the mediocrity of public education and, in particular, the institutional structures which produce and foster that mediocrity. They are the victims of a system that ill prepares them to begin with and then stifles professional development and advancement. My sympathy is first with the children; for it is they whose education is lost, and it is their parents whose dreams are eroded by mediocrity in the classroom. Next my sympathy lies with the teachers, for it is they who work hardest, suffer longest, and are least appreciated. There are grossly incompetent teachers who are a blight on the profession, but most teachers want excellence desperately, for a teacher cannot feel successful in a classroom unless her or his students are learning. Teaching can be therapeutic for the teacher properly equipped to succeed. But for someone who is ill equipped, teaching will exhaust the body and sap the spirit until there is finally nothing left to give.



  1. Jones, F H. and Eimers, R. Role-playing to train elementary teachers to use a classroom management "skill package. " Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1975, 8, 421-433.

  2. Fremouw, W., and Carples, S. Pyramid training of elementary school teachers to use a classroom management "skill package." Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1977, 10, 239-253.


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