October 5, 2016

Great teachers are made and Title II is how we make them

Misti Kemmer

Last week, far from my South Los Angeles classroom, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance to help states and districts make the most out of Title II in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which provides funding for teacher supports, preparation, training and more. Great teachers are not born; they are made. Title II has the potential to transform my career as an educator and propel the achievement of my fourth-grade students — if Congress increases Title II funding in its upcoming budget, and if states use it to help educators grow in areas where they most need it.

How our school made gains because of Title II

I know first-hand how critical ongoing preparation and training is for teachers so they can meet the demands of diverse and complex student populations. The achievement gap between students at my school — 100 percent of whom are eligible for free lunch — and those from more affluent neighborhoods is very real.

Yet my school has made significant gains in the last few years. The student population didn’t change — the caliber of our teaching did. When given the funds to do so, we attend professional development on best practices for teaching reading. We attend conferences and trainings on teaching our content areas. Teachers meet outside of work hours to collaborate. Our test scores show what we are doing is working: we were the highest performing elementary school in our area last year.

I can’t help but wonder: What if everyone was doing this, and doing it right?

Evidence-based, job-embedded professional development

Teachers like me need the ongoing, embedded professional development supported by Title II under ESSA. I should be empowered to seek and access the kind of training I know I need. If a student is removed from their parents’ home because of abuse, I want training on trauma-informed teaching to better meet his or her needs. If I get a student with a two-year gap in math skills, I want to find professional development on remediating these skills.

Teacher preparation

Title II funds should also be used to adequately prepare teachers who are new to the field. Ask any teacher at my school if they felt ready to enter the classroom their first year. All will answer with a resounding “no” and say they feel sorry for that group of students. Among new teachers, 9 percent leave within or after their first year teaching, and a whopping 50 percent will leave in the first five years.

Universities are using Title II to counter this. In my classroom, I have a university intern from California State University, Dominguez Hills learning on the job from the first to the last day of school. She gets to see how to establish rules in a classroom, how to plan long term and how to differentiate. Most importantly, she will be more prepared to lead her own classroom in the future.

Hard-to-staff schools

Targeted professional development, using Title II funds, can help keep strong teachers in high-needs schools and can make good teachers into great teachers who will stay in the field. We can send teachers into our toughest neighborhoods ready to teach and with the strength to stay. Once there, we can continue to support these teachers to be the best they can be by giving them training that makes sense for the populations they teach. The scores at my school, achieved by students of color in poverty, are a testament to what happens when teachers are trained to meet specific needs.

A critical year ahead — and how Congress can help

The 2017-18 school year will be a critical year for schools like mine as states begin to implement Every Student Achieves Act (ESSA) for the first time. That’s why Educators 4 Excellence joined a diverse coalition of 20 organizations and nearly 100 educators from across the country in urging the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education & Related Agencies to include funding for programs that will support teachers and principals in cultivating schools where all students can succeed.

I urge Congress to include increased Title II funding in its 2017 budget. When given the skills and funds to do so, good teachers become great teachers and great teachers produce great students. We must support our pre-service teachers so they enter the field ready to succeed, and we need to continue the professional growth and career opportunities for our veteran teachers so they are supported to be the best they can be.

Misti Kemmer

Misti is a fourth grade teacher at Russell Elementary School in Los Angeles, California.