Monday December 19, 2016

Kids deserve the best teachers, principals

Recruiting, developing and retaining highly qualified teachers and leaders is a pillar of Oklahoma City Public Schools’ strategic plan, The Great Commitment. And, supporting teacher and leader professional development is a key strategic focus of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools. This alignment is critical. Focus on providing our teachers and leaders with the skills, tools, resources and accountability measures necessary is important for the community to understand, as well. Put another way, we need the best teachers in every classroom and the best principals leading every school. Our kids deserve it and our future depends on it.

One such program for teachers that is supported by the foundation and the district is the Urban Teacher Preparation Academy. This program was developed in 2009 by the University of Central Oklahoma and now includes teacher candidates from the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Mid-America Christian University. The mission of the program is to expose teacher candidates to principles, knowledge, resources and experiences so they will have a positive impact on diverse learners in Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Since the program began, the Urban Teacher Preparation Academy has prepared 63 teachers for Oklahoma City Public Schools and another 10 will enter the teaching ranks this year. The academy provides participants with specialized professional development and mentorships for three years. The training focuses on the unique issues related to teaching in an urban environment. Mentors are seasoned teachers who share experiences, best practices and provide an understanding ear. Once certified, academy graduates are asked to “pay it forward” by serving as mentors themselves. The current district Teacher of the Year, Rebecka Binion, was in the first class of academy graduates and provides valuable mentorship to current participants and is a frequent speaker at academy gatherings.

Teacher retention is a challenge throughout the nation — and especially in urban districts. Limited resources, lack of public support, low pay and the issues facing students living in poverty are real obstacles faced by Oklahoma City teachers. Academy graduates make a commitment to stay in the district and currently track at a 63 percent retention rate. Leaders of the academy expect that to increase as they see increased attendance at training meetings and in mentorship engagement.

UCO is truly a leader in developing and supporting teachers in our state. A special event was held there last week called Honoring a Noble Profession-Celebrating Teachers and Teaching. Teachers of the Year from across the state, supporters and newly graduating teachers attended. The new teacher graduates spent the morning hearing from education leaders, including Oklahoma City Superintendent Aurora Lora. The luncheon keynote address was given by the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes. She received a standing ovation for her positive message about the importance of teaching. She stressed to the new graduates to never think of the profession they’ve chosen as not being enough … no matter what they may hear from others. She advised them to always focus on the positive, and if there were 97 out of 100 negative things regarding their work, to focus on the three positive things and share those with everyone possible.

Hayes shared a story of encountering a former student from her early years of teaching that she had encouraged through a very difficult time. The now young adult let her know that Hayes was the reason she graduated.

Hayes said, “Teachers are not visitors in the lives of their students. We have a lasting impact. Whether or not we ever receive a thank you or run into them in a parking lot. What we do matters greatly, and we have a front door seat to their future.”

What a powerful message and a reminder to us all to thank our teachers whenever we can.

Read Mary Mélon’s original NewsOK editorial.

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