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Dennis Van Roekel on Leading The Profession

NEA’s Three-Point Plan to Strengthen Teaching, Improve Student Learning

By Dennis Van Roekel  
December 13, 2011

The status quo in public education isn’t working. Not for students – and not for educators. Now, more than ever, our schools need a highly skilled and effective teaching force to guide students in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

Experience and real evidence about what works give us coordinates by which to navigate. But as a nation, we find ourselves in rough seas, with too many experts and policymakers pushing ill-conceived policies that make no sense for students or teachers. Turning the public education ship can be done, but not with so much carelessness that it takes on water and capsizes.

For a number of years, NEA watched our members across the country endeavoring to find new, better ways of improving instruction. We examined quality research on teaching and learning. And we scrutinized data and teacher training practices from top-performing nations.

Over time a couple things became clear. There was a real dearth of teacher voices in the teacher quality reform debate, and there was a real need to rectify that.

In the summer of 2010 I called for an independent Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching (CETT), comprised of highly accomplished teachers and leaders, and tasked with defining teacher effectiveness and what role teachers and their unions must play to transform the profession.

With the CETT work underway, NEA also engaged state and local leaders in the same conversation. The Commission’s new report, Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning, confirms much of what NEA members told us: now is the time to set a new course to create a great profession of teaching that truly advances student achievement.
That is why I have announced NEA’s three-point plan Leading the Profession. This plan lays out action steps squarely focused on achievable goals that are within our union’s power to change or influence.

1. Raising the Bar for Entry: We need more rigorous programs of admission to the profession – not anyone can be a teacher.  It’s not enough just to know subject matter – a great teacher has to enjoy and have demonstrated skills in teaching students, with all their unique personalities and styles. Our action plan demands that teaching candidates are well prepared for what it takes to do well in a classroom.

2. Teachers Ensuring Great Teaching: We need smarter, more supportive evaluation and professional development. Teachers should be expected to have full command of content, continuously refine their craft, and stay current of best practices. All teachers deserve the benefit of highly trained peer evaluators to assess their practice, and give timely and constructive feedback. And when teachers stumble, there needs to be an accountability system that is efficient, transparent, and fair to the employee and employer. 

3. Union Leadership to Transform the Profession: Teacher unions need to do more to take responsibility for the teaching profession, and we need to think about supporting the profession in radically different ways. That includes working on changes at the local and state levels; partnering in the redesign of teacher preparation; and sharing responsibility for teacher quality. NEA members are hungry for new approaches.

I am under no illusions that this work will be easy. If it were, the problems would have been solved by now. But NEA is determined to put its vast networks and knowledge to work, as part of our commitment to transform public education by 2020. Our students deserve no less.

There is an old African riddle I am very fond of: “How do you eat an elephant?” To which the answer is “A bite at a time.”

Let’s do the math…

NEA’s Three-Point Plan for Reform calls for:

  • One full year of residency under the supervision of a Master Teacher and a classroom-based performance assessment before any teaching candidate can earn a full license.
  • 100 high-quality Peer Assistance and Peer Assistance and Review programs over the next two years.
  • Training 1,000 accomplished teachers for leadership roles across the country.

Continue the conversation at

Leading the Profession