Focus Simply on Finding the Best - Kent McGuire, SEF President and CEO

Posted: 7/1/2014 1:00 AM
Filed under: new teachers, teacher effectiveness, teacher training

Kent McGuire \\ July, 2014

Experience matters, but it does not guarantee effectiveness in the classroom. Indeed, we might prefer a new teacher who connects with students and brings a passion for teaching over an experienced one who does not. I’m certain this is the conclusion many charter networks have reached.

So how do they make it work? I’ve seen the summer training materials used with corp members just starting with Teach for America. I’ve seen Uncommon Schools' professional development videos. I’ve visited charter schools and witnessed really solid coaching and been impressed by the real-time feedback their teachers receive. The rich scripts and carefully designed routines are helpful when you are working 12 hour days in our most challenging schools.

But the best of what I’ve seen comes from both experienced and relatively inexperienced teachers who have the courage or freedom to depart from the cold war curriculum that remains pervasive in our schools. These teachers, working in diverse classrooms with kids living near or below the poverty line, recast the subject matter into themes that resonate with their students. What these teachers have in common is not that they work in charter schools but an abiding respect for the children they teach, a sense of purpose about the power of education in elevating lives and a thorough understanding of how to teach their subject. These are the all too uncommon teachers in the work force. They do not depend on scripts and routines.

If we are serious about all students graduating with a common core of knowledge, we’ll need many more of these skillful teachers than we have today, regardless of the path they travel into teaching. What we know is that new teachers perform at different levels and improve at different rates. Traditional schools and charter schools alike will need to get better at figuring out which teachers to keep and which ones to let go. How we attract, retain and deploy them in the teaching and learning process is what we should be debating.


Kent McGuire,

SEF's President Dr. Kent McGuire, is responsible for SEF’s mission to advance equity and excellence in education in the American South especially for African Americans. Prior to joining SEF, Dr. McGuire served as the Dean of the College of Education at Temple University and was a tenured professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, also at Temple. Before that he served in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of the US Department of Education. His prior non-profit work included being the Education Program Officer for the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts and serving as Education Program Director for the Eli Lilly Endowment.

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