Ariela Rozman has been guiding TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project, as CEO for five years. TNTP is widely considered to be one of the most successful nonprofit leaders in education reform and is primarily focused on providing highly effective teachers to all children. The combination think tank, training ground, and advocacy group has inspired thousands of teachers and their advocates since its launch in 1997. With Rozman at the helm, TNTP “has nearly doubled in size and tripled in revenue.”
As children across the country head back to school this week, TakePart asks Rozman (whom Time named one of 12 education activists to watch earlier this year) a few questions about the current state of teaching—and how readers can help propel change in their own schools to make classrooms a better place for all teachers and their students.
TakePart: What is TNTP’s philosophy and mission in a nutshell?
Rozman: Kids must have access to excellent teaching. We’re not a specific service; we’re an approach. We’re not going to deliver [great education] to all kids unless all of them have excellent teachers. That’s the most important thing in schools.
TakePart: What is your biggest hurdle ahead?
Rozman: We have to increase the respect and rigor for the teaching profession. The problem is, teachers get no respect. Some people say we need to treat them like professionals, but others say they need more rigor. People have chosen one or the other.
It’s not one or the other. We have to do both. It’s a myth to say teachers will be pushed out when there is rigor. We are thinking about how to ensure both are happening in dialogue and in the schools.
TakePart: How do you create an irreplaceable teacher?
Rozman: Part of it is making sure teachers have information and, after looking at what the data is saying, [offering] strategies. Tell them they are good teachers. Give them positive recognition. These are small things. And who are the strugglers? Support them or recognize if things are not getting better [they will be] seeking employment.
For many years, we thought the effort we put into our selection model for our Fellows programs would yield the best teachers. But large-scale studies show nobody has the silver bullet. You cannot entirely predict who will be an excellent teacher. The best predictor of future performance is past performance in the classroom.
TakePart: Are teachers discouraged these days by the political climate and the blame that often falls on them for failing schools?
Rozman: I think teachers are hungry to be recognized as the professionals they are. This hasn’t happened because we have created a place where anyone can be a teacher if they go through the steps. It doesn’t feel as if there is a real gate there. You have hit this level and you are a teacher. I think that on a day-to-day basis, this is very difficult to deal with.
When we recruit folks for our Teaching Fellows program, we look at people not from traditional [teaching] backgrounds, like lawyers. We get thousands of applicants, and we accept about 12 percent a year. There is tremendous desire from folks out there to be teachers in classrooms, and who want to do great work for the kids. It’s the hardest, most challenging job, but also the most rewarding.
We have to set a clear bar that says this is success [in the teaching field].
TakePart: What kind of feedback are you getting from teachers who are dealing with drastic budget cuts?
Rozman: I think we can find people who can [teach] in spite of all this. But why not create conditions where they can thrive? Administrative leaders need to support them, but they often don’t know what to do to retain teachers.
TakePart: What can we do as parents?
Rozman: [First of all,] we need to look at what the facts say and not get pulled in by rhetoric. We need to look at what the data is telling us.
As a parent, be involved. Say, "I think teachers are the most important thing." As a parent, you want to know that school leaders are regularly evalulating teachers and giving them the feedback they need and deserve. Parents can help hold school leaders accountable for supporting effective teaching.
Do you think school administrators need to do more to create conditions where great teachers can thrive? Share your thoughts in comments.
Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and Forbes.com about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.