Press of Atlantic City, The (NJ) - November 27, 2006

Author: DIANE D'AMICO Education Writer

Teachers may not be the ones taking the state tests given in New Jersey public schools each year, but they're still being assessed all the same. The test results of students also will be used to assess the teaching skills of their teachers.

If no child is to be left behind, every teacher also is being challenged to move them along. Schools are negotiating more training time for teachers, and teachers are spending more time not just teaching, but also learning.

This is a good thing. But it has been very demanding for teachers and school districts to find the time and money to stay current on the latest teaching methods.

The state requires teachers to get 100 hours of training every five years. Educators want programs that are meaningful to them in their classrooms and not just another certificate they can turn in to meet the requirements.

Teachers in southern New Jersey have a great asset in the Southern Regional Institute operated by Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. On average between 8,000 and 10,000 educators attend workshops sponosored by the SRI each year. More than 80 school districts partner with the college to provide an ongoing series of workshops on every education topic.

"There are so many issues," SRI chief executive officer Harvey Kesselman said. "Teachers have to keep up with the new technology. They have to meet the needs of every child. There is more accountability. They don't need more college degrees. But they need to stay on top of trends and learn new ways to reach all children."

For a science teacher, that may mean attending a workshop on integrating genetics, or stem-cell research, into lessons. For a special education teacher there may be new methods to teach children with autism.

"There's a huge demand for the programs," Kesselman said.

Now, the state's largest teachers union is joining in. The New Jersey Education Association announced at its convention earlier this month that it was putting up $500,000 in startup funds for a new, independent Center for Teaching and Learning. Run by a separate board of trustees, the center's goal is to make sure all teachers have access to high-quality training.

"Our mission for the last seven or eight years has been to have high-quality schools for all children," said Joyce Powell, NJEA president. "Now, we also want to ensure that all school employees have access to high-quality professional development."

NJEA Executive Director Robert Bonazzi said people don't realize how isolating teaching can be. "The teacher is alone in the class most of the day," he said. "They have questions, and they want more support and interaction."

No Child Left Behind may be driving education policy. But ultimately, it is the teacher in the classroom who is responsible for teaching each child. The NJEA wants to give those teachers more of a voice in the process.

The NJEA hopes to have programs up and running by September. Powell said one goal would be to create leaders among the teachers who can become experts in areas they can then share with colleagues.

"Every school has those teachers that all the others go to when they have a problem with a lesson, or a student," Powell said. "We want to encourage that on a statewide basis."