The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 contains numerous references to “high-quality professional development.” NCLB has profound implications for teachers and professional development (PD). This law requires that states and school districts provide increasing amounts of teacher PD. The quantity and the quality of PD are critical issues in the NCLB Act with direct impact on student achievement. Research proves that the most important factor in student achievement is the quality of the teacher.
When I was a beginning teacher, I assumed the school was responsible for my PD training. The administration chose the focus for training each year—without my input. I was overwhelmed with perfecting the art and craft of teaching science, and I was content allowing the school to furnish PD training. While the school provided some useful PD activities, I realized that some were not personally meaningful, and there was little continuity in the PD. Each year brought a new focus and program. With time and maturity, I realized that I should be in control of my PD. Only I knew my career goals and the areas that needed improvement. I began to seek and participate in PD activities I deemed important—often paying for the training with personal funds. The time away from family and the expense were hardships; however, I wanted control of my PD. With this major shift in thinking, I began to significantly grow as a professional science teacher—a growth that continues.
NSTA President Anne Tweed identified “The Highly Qualified Teacher” as a theme for her presidency. At the 2004 National Congress on Science Education (NCSE), one focus group explored the PD aspect of the highly qualified teacher. The rich discussions in this group proved that teachers from across the country shared similar concerns and difficulties. Several resolutions from this focus group were presented to and unanimously approved by NCSE. One resolution reaffirmed NCSE’s belief that professional conferences are integral and valid parts of a PD plan for a highly qualified teacher. Another requested that the Chapters and Associated Groups (CAGS) gather and share relevant PD opportunities with science teachers in their regions and states. An additional resolution requested that NSTA develop resource packets for the CAGS to use in promoting conferences as a meaningful part of teacher PD opportunities.
Conventions are the most visible and important PD program that NSTA currently provides. Across the nation, science leaders affirm that conventions are an essential part of quality PD training. Both the ideas gathered from and the contacts established with colleagues are invaluable to teachers seeking to improve their classroom instruction. Regrettably, the Eisenhower Funds for math and science PD are gone; however, Title IIA funds from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) may be used by science teachers to attend conventions and other PD training. While the major emphasis in most schools is squarely on literacy and math proficiency, there is no reason science teachers cannot—and should not—receive equitable access to ESEA Title IIA funds. Science teachers must become more knowledgeable of how these funds are allocated within their schools and districts. Teachers must take greater control of the training they need to meet the definitions of “highly qualified” under NCLB.
To respond to and meet the needs of NSTA members, a senior staff member was hired and charged with analyzing and developing additional PD programs. Rowena Douglas is currently working to identify, develop, and improve NSTA PD programs. One model tested was the Professional Development Institute at the 2004 Atlanta convention. NSTA is researching additional PD programs for science teachers to hone their teaching skills and improve their content knowledge as required by NCLB. NSTA is sensitive to the professional development aspect of NCLB and is actively taking steps to assist its members.
NCLB requires that teachers receive high quality PD. Teachers know what types of training will be needed to assist them in becoming better science educators. I encourage you to take responsibility for your PD by becoming more involved in planning and developing your professional growth. The Eisenhower National Clearinghouse offers excellent information on building PD (www.enc.org). Ask questions about using Title IIA funding in your school or district to participate in conventions, workshops, online courses, seminars, and other professional experiences. Contact NSTA for assistance in accessing these funds in your schools (also visit www.nsta.org/convtips for tips on how to work with your school to access these funds). The end result will be meaningful personal professional growth for you as an educator and increased achievement by your students!
Steven Long is chair of the NSTA High School Committee and a science teacher at Rogers High School in Rogers, Arkansas; e-mail: email@example.com.