ALBANY -- The broader education community needs to do more to reclaim the narrative around education and the teaching profession, educators agreed during a panel discussion Friday morning at the University at Albany.
During UAlbany’s School of Education Day, a panel of district leaders and education experts discussed the “changing perception of education,” lamenting negative attitudes about the education profession and calling for a widespread effort to encourage young people to consider careers in education as teachers, counselors, school psychologists and other positions.
“If we are not the narrators of our own story as educators and as a system of education, others will make it up,” said Kaweeda Adams, superintendent of Albany City School District, noting that all professions and pursuits require a basic education. “It doesn’t matter what we choose to do we first have to be educated.”
The conversation also covered the importance and challenge of balancing school safety with creating welcoming environments, the emerging prevalence of technology in classrooms and efforts to engage students in internships and experiences outside the classroom.
Joe Dragone, senior executive officer of the Capital Region BOCES, reflected on the 2015 laws that tied student test scores to teacher evaluations and spurred a contentious fight over state testing, education standards and parents refusing tests for their children. That method of evaluating teachers has changed. He said the impacts of that debate have lingered and negatively affected the impression people have of the teaching profession and whether it's a good career to pursue. Prior to the panel discussion, public opinion researcher Gary Langer released survey results that showed a majority of teachers said they would not encourage their children to pursue teaching careers.
“Candidly, it was detrimental, and we are feeling that still,” Dragone said. “It’s tough to recruit to a sector where on a policy level it’s all about that you don’t your job well ... Who wants to go and work in that environment?”
The panelists discussed efforts to encourage current students to consider careers in education, introducing the gamut of positions that makes schools run from teachers to counselors to administrators and others. They also talked about expanding recruitment efforts and developing programs within districts that set students on a course to one day return to their home districts as teachers.
The panel also covered schools safety. Langer noted that while school safety is an issue important to parents, they often rank many other concerns higher than they do school security. And most parents, Langer said, view their own child’s school as safe and secure.
“Parents are always going to worry,” Langer said. “But they feel their own school is secure … Before we turn our schools into security zones, it’s important to keep in mind parents see other concerns as far more important.”
Alex Pieterse, a UAlbany education professor, called for a wider frame on the safety discussion, raising issues of marginalized groups and increasing levels of depression among teenagers.
He also pointed out that students from historically marginalized groups – racial minorities and LGBTQ students – may view questions of school safety differently from other students.
“They would not see it as a relatively small problem,” Pieterse said.
He cited an upward trend in the number of teenagers experiencing depressive episodes and urged educators to consider the implicit messages kids receive when they encounter safety measures like metal detectors.
“What message are we conveying to our kids when we say we need to send you through this device, because we expect your behavior to be dangerous,” he said.
He also pointed out that while 75 percent of teacher are women, the majority of superintendents are men. He said educators need to think about what power dynamics are at play in school systems and how well different people are represented as decisions are made about that school system.
“There are discussions we need to have about power,” he said. “Who has input? Who has representation?”
Albany school Superintendent Adams said educators in her district are working to expand opportunities for students to visit businesses, hold internships, take trips out of the city and go on college visits. She said the district’s tag line is: “All in for Albany.’
“Our students belong to all of us,” she said.
As the discussion shifted toward expanding opportunities for students to experience potential careers, David Ziskin, superintendent of the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES, said parents and educators should no longer think students pick either traditional academic pursuit or career and technical education. Career and technical programs can offer students accelerated learning and challenge talented students.
“In many cases, it’s not a question of either [CTE] or [honors courses], it’s about how can we combine the two,” Ziskin said.