May 2012
April 16, 2012

A case for world-class teaching

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Panelists at the seventh annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning this March in New York City. Miller Photography.

After 34 years in the classroom as a fourth-grade teacher, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi knows the value of good professional development. That's why he's a staunch supporter of the Celebration of Teaching and Learning, a two-day professional development conference that brings together global experts, advocates, practitioners and academics from a wide range of fields.

"It's good to walk the halls and see so many teachers and educators re-energizing themselves professionally — that's what you want to do," said Iannuzzi. "NYSUT is proud to be a flagship sponsor of the celebration."

Presented by Thirteen/WNET and WLIW21, more than 10,000 educators attended the seventh annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning this March in New York City. NYSUT made it possible for nearly 200 teachers to participate.

Featured speakers included Sal Khan, founder of online tutoring site Khan Academy; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard professor and host of the PBS miniseries Finding Your Roots; and Henry Winkler, best known as the Fonz on the long-running television series Happy Days, and co-author of the Hank Zipzer book series.

Iannuzzi introduced the 2012 Teacher of the Year, Katie Ferguson, a second grade teacher and member of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, during an afternoon plenary session. Ferguson's work was highlighted in a StoryCorps audio conversation between her and a former student. She shared literacy strategies in a Saturday workshop.

Stuart Napear, president of the Freeport Teachers Association on Long Island, attended with seven of his colleagues. Like most educators, he doesn't take days away from the classroom lightly, owing to today's fast-paced educational environment. But for the celebration, the Freeport High School math teacher considers the professional development payoff worth it. "It's exciting to learn about the different aspects of teaching math — this is why you come here, to get inspired," said Napear, who was also interested in getting information about virtual learning.

It's important that teachers be on the cutting edge of how technologies like virtual learning are used since they offer both exciting learning opportunities for students, and potentially troubling outcomes for the teaching profession if educators are supplanted by it, he explained.

A panel detailing findings of the second International Summit on the Teaching Profession was a highlight. The two-day summit, held prior to the conference, is the only occasion that convenes union and government education leaders from 23 high-performing countries and regions worldwide to promote, develop and sustain world-class teaching.

Under the theme Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders, conversation centered on three areas: developing school leaders; preparing teachers to teach 21st century skills; and examining how countries match highly skilled educators with priority subjects and locations.

Panelists included 2007 New York state Teacher of the Year Marguerite Izzo; Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president; and Dennis Van Roeckel, president of the National Education Association. The three represented the views of American labor at the summit.

The importance of collaboration — in terms of teaching, leadership and professional learning communities — was a central theme. Participants concluded that no education system can exceed the quality of its teachers and support systems.

"It's very powerful to watch areas like Singapore, Finland and Ontario, where the climate of the community is designed around kids getting a good education, and teachers work in partnership with the community," said Weingarten. "There's a real disconnect between what's being done internationally, and what we do in districts in the United States."

Van Roeckel agreed. "If something is not working [internationally] it's a systems problem, not a people problem," he said. "In this country, we blame the people … but no good teacher can exceed the dysfunction of the system."

Izzo highlighted the importance of trusting teachers' judgment. "Sometimes there is a real disconnect between what policy leaders say and what goes on in the classroom," she said, explaining that when it comes to instituting reform, "we have to include the people within, including the students."

All agreed that an overhaul of the nation's education system is needed. Key is fostering a greater appreciation for the value of education and investing more in quality teacher preparation — major areas of difference between the U.S. and other countries.

"Instead of having the conversation only be about naming, blaming and test fixation ... let's listen to what works in high-performing countries and come up with a plan of our own to improve," said Weingarten.

"Every time I hear Finland talk about educational equity, I'm inspired," said Van Roeckel. "Imagine a system in America where equity was ensured, no matter where you lived. I think that’s worth fighting for."