CH Teachers Union provides summer professional development for members

Teachers report out from the work they have done in small groups this summer in the School, Family, Community class taught by Patti A. Smith and Josephine Shelton-Townes.

When I was in college, the big joke among those pursuing teaching as a career was “what are the three best things about being a teacher?” The punchline was “June, July and August.”

Most teachers I know look forward to summer, but few are sitting on the beach eating bonbons for nine weeks. Many teachers spend a week or two cleaning up their classrooms, and do the same with their houses; then, it is almost time to set up classrooms for the start of school. Teachers are also required to take graduate-level courses to be eligible to renew their license every five years. Almost all teachers who stay in the profession earn a master’s degree.

Members of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union (CHTU) have the opportunity to learn from their colleagues after they have earned a master’s, in the Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) program. The American Federation of Teachers, CHTU’s national affiliate, developed ER&D more than 35 years ago. Since 2003, CHTU has been sending teachers to the eight-day national training program so that they can prepare to teach the material to colleagues locally. They spend the eight days learning the research in a particular area and also devote time to adult learning theory. Our trainees take the material home to practice in their classrooms and reflect. At mid-year, they return for a two-day wrap-up. This is what is required before our teachers can offer a 30-hour course to our members.

We believe that courses taught through the union should contain the most thoroughly researched material that is replicable. Unfortunately, much of what is considered “education research” is someone’s opinion canned into a profitable program with lots of catchphrases and acronyms. The material used in ER&D courses is rigorously vetted.

We also believe that any professional training that a teacher attends must be taught in an exemplary manner. We want teachers to be able to use the research as well as the pedagogy. Unfortunately, for most teachers, professional training lectures are the norm. What I notice when visiting our ER&D classes are that the walls are almost always packed with posters created by participants. Often, teachers are discussing an issue, reflecting on their own practice, or are up on their feet in small groups working together.

Summer class participants are engaged for six hours a day for five straight days. This summer, we offered five courses: Instructional Strategies that Work; School, Family and Community; Thinking Math; Managing Anti-Social Behavior; and—new this year—English Language Learners. In the spring we offered Reading Comprehension every other week for three hours after school. Full descriptions of these courses are on our website,

More than 100 enrolled in ER&D classes this year. Through contract language, the CH-UH City School District is a partner in this venture, though the CHTU runs the courses and provides the bulk of the funding. Having expert instructors work in the same district makes a difference. Some of this year’s participants’ comments indicate how much they appreciate ER&D: “The reflections helped me focus in and refine my teaching strategies on what works and what I need to do to improve;” “I will hopefully learn how to better show process/relationships when teaching new material;” “I’m leaving very prepared for next school year;” “Thank you for a great informative week;” “More confident about my ability to maintain a positive, productive atmosphere where all students can succeed.”

Some people may be surprised to learn that our union provides professional training, but we believe we are the best equipped to help colleagues improve their teaching, learn new strategies, and reflect on best practices they may be using or want to modify. As the first CHTU site coordinator and as one of the first instructors, I am proud of our local for its continued investment in training. We now have six pairs of trained instructors capable of teaching nine different courses. This is not typical for a local our size, but we believe empowering our own teachers to take on the role of instructional leader is a perfect job for our union and is the best way to provide long-term benefits to the students we serve.

Ari Klein

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.

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Volume 9, Issue 8, Posted 6:36 PM, 07.28.2016