In-Service Training, Support, and Supervision for Practicing Teachers

According to Akiba and LeTendre’s (2009) conceptual framework, the final step to ensure a coherent policy to improve teacher quality is continuously supporting and retaining teachers through attractive working conditions, induction and support for new teachers, and continuous, high- quality professional development. Such support is particularly important for teachers working in marginalized environments because once these teachers find themselves in remote and rural schools or other contexts with marginalized students, they often encounter unique and challenging teaching conditions. Teachers in marginalized areas need in-service training and support targeted toward confronting these challenges, as well as to overcome gaps created by abbreviated or nonexistent pre-service training. Yet in our case study research, we found that teachers of marginalized children often have less access to in-service training than other teachers. Additionally, they rarely receive any formal induction or other types of support or supervision. As a result, these teachers often transfer to more desirable locations once they are able. Despite the presence of some monetary and non-monetary incentives to attract and retain teachers to work in marginalized environments, these incentives often do not have the desired effect. In this section we discuss inadequate professional development opportunities and support, the process of seniority-based teacher transfers, and the existence or non-existence of incentives for teachers working with marginalized children.

In India, we found that in-service training leaves much to be desired. To begin with, frequent teacher turnover in difficult locations makes it difficult to achieve sustainable benefits from in-service training. This training is often poorly conceptualized, lacking in ongoing development, and not always connected to teachers’ needs. The process of delivering teacher training may also create challenges. From our case study respondents, we learned of a disconnect between the national, state, and local training teams. Ultimately, this can result in cynicism and a lack of interest on the part of teachers and administrators. Reflecting on in-service training, a senior government official observed:

I come I find a great idea from somewhere ... I dump it on teacher and say this is what you have to do. When I go away, the next person comes and says no, I have my great thoughts and all is very genuine, everyone should do ABL [activity-based learning], and the teachers don’t know what’s to be done. There has never been a discussion of problems in the classrooms, what can we do with children, what are the basic strategies to use.

In addition to the disconnect between in-service training and teachers’ needs, respondents noted a lack of policy attention to how teachers receive and implement the training, as well as a lack of feedback for teachers. Ultimately the process of training seems disjointed and ad hoc. For example, an official in the state capital calls someone in the national capital to prepare a module to train a state resource official in just three days’ time. This official then trains the district trainers, who train trainers below them to further train local “master trainers” (MTs). A university professor noted:

Then master trainers, the poor fellow, will go and train the teachers for 10 days. If teacher says this can’t be done in class then MT will say it comes from above . And if something fails then you cannot hold anyone responsible because everyone after doing their bit goes away and next day you might have a different group. So there is no learning.

In addition to infrequent or disjointed teacher training, teachers report that they receive little support from school inspectors. A respondent noted of a local school inspector, the “(officer) will come, will see the toilet, they will see the midday meals and the physical infrastructure, not the academic aspect.”

Similar to our work in India, many participants in our Mexican case study noted a consistent lack of coherent or relevant opportunities for teachers to receive in-service training. According to several respondents, this situation contrasts with a very high demand for professional development on the part of Mexican teachers. Yet all too often the demand for training goes unmet, especially among teachers working with the most marginalized populations. Several participants in our research observed that teachers working in the most marginalized areas have many fewer opportunities for in-service training than teachers in urban locations.

Given their remote locations, instructors in the CONAFE system have few opportunities for formal in-service training. To support these instructors both personally and pedagogically, CONAFE maintains an infrastructure of trainers, assistants, and state-level coordinators. The work of trainers and assistants ranges from assisting instructors with pedagogical challenges to mediating conflicts between instructors and community members. One trainer described working with community members to ensure that they provided food to the instructor, who otherwise would go without. According to CONAFE personnel we interviewed, support personnel give priority to supporting teachers facing the greatest pedagogical and personal challenges. Trainers at the primary level are generally assigned fewer communities to work with, which allows them more time in each community. This arrangement is due to the difficult pedagogical conditions and needs of the primary instructors, especially the challenge of working with up to six primary grades in one classroom. While some CONAFE instructors pointed to this support as critical for their success in the classroom, others felt that this support was too infrequent and inadequate for their needs.

A representative of an NGO in Yucatan, who had worked for years with CONAFE, observed that although their initial preparation was limited, over time the instructors developed many instructional tools that made them effective teachers over the long run if they stayed in the profession. However, many interview participants reported that CONAFE instructors often do not serve beyond the initial yearlong commitment they make. Additionally, we heard critiques related to the training of CONAFE instructors to work with indigenous children. Several former CONAFE instructors reported that they had not received sufficient training to teach bilingually. As one of these instructors observed, “they tell you in theory that you need to teach bilingually, but they don’t tell you how to do it.” Although this problem occurs in many settings with indigenous children, one former CONAFE instructor observed, “it’s worse in CONAFE.” This is in part because instructors may not speak the indigenous language, or they are simply not prepared to work in such settings. As this participant observed, “even if there is training and if there are materials, the best method cannot work in the wrong hands.”

In contrast to mixed reports regarding in-service training and support for CONAFE instructors, we heard uniformly critical reports of Mexico’s school supervisors and technical advisors, who are charged with providing support and training of classroom teachers. A former secretary of education in one of our study states observed that supervisors often play a more political than pedagogical role. In fact, the former official observed that supervisors often do not even visit the schools that they are charged with supervising. Two primary teachers from Zacatecas reported that supervisors check to make sure they are present and doing their work, but they do not provide teaching advice or support. In fact, these teachers were not able to clearly articulate the role or purpose of school supervisors. An NGO representative in Yucatan observed, “One of the great problems in education is the lack of support. Our teachers do not receive support. The supervisor comes and asks them for documents and student attendance lists, they ask for more administrative things.” Yet despite fairly consistent critiques of school supervisors, a national education official expressed the strong potential of reorienting the work of school supervisors and technical advisors to be more pedagogical and to work with teachers on assessing and addressing instructional problems.

Similar to India and Mexico, participants in our Tanzania case study reported that in-service opportunities for teachers are infrequent, especially in remote rural areas. This may result in part from the fact that inservice training is often left to the local level. To receive in-service training, teachers ask their ward education officers. To receive additional upgrading, they write to their DEOs to request permission to travel further away. In our interviews we learned that teachers may use such requests to exit their current teaching placements. The DEO then makes decisions about upgrades and training based on the available budget. While this system should ideally allow all teachers to seek and receive regular in-service training, we found a large unmet demand for such training, especially in remote rural areas. One respondent informed us that teachers in such areas can go many years without receiving any in-service training: “Someone will have taught for 10, 11 years without a single in-service training taking place for them ... A teacher in a rural area might not have any training for ten years, but someone working here (in Dar es Salaam) might.”

Lack of in-service training for teachers may be due to various reasons. A national education official observed that teacher in-service training is often reserved for teachers of certain subjects, particularly math and science. Although this training may help to support and retain these teachers, it can also discourage teachers of other subjects:

We have been encouraging teachers especially to take sciences, mathematics, and the languages. We obtained a number of refresher courses, and this is also an incentive to make them remain in the profession. Those are the mechanisms that we use. However ... if it is a mathematics teacher, he gets time to go for in-service training, but the rest, geography teachers, history teachers, they rarely get such training. We want to make sure every teacher remains in the profession, so these are the areas we should improve.

Although Ward Education Offices and Teacher Resource Centers (TRCs) are charged with offering teaching aids and upgrading skills, we learned from various interviews that many TRCs across the country are not functional; additionally, while every district is supposed to have a TRC, that is often not the case. The success of the TRCs appears to vary based on the teacher training colleges that support them.

We also learned that an absence of support and supervision in rural areas can result in problems of teacher effort and absence. A district education officer observed:

When they have been prepared, there is no problem. They are prepared in a very good way. When they are employed, now it comes a problem that there is no one to follow them. How are they doing? Do they fulfill their responsibilities? After they’re posted to school, it is a problem. They do whatever they want. The teacher can teach, yes, or not finishing syllabus, but no one is following him or following her. They do whatever they want.

We also learned of initiatives in Tanzania to hold teachers accountable for their presence and effort in schools. A ward education officer in Arusha Region told us that teacher presence is monitored through the use of an attendance book; teachers who miss a certain number of days must pay a penalty. We also learned of an NGO that is working with local communities to monitor teacher attendance and effort, as well as a recent government initiative, called “Big Results Now,” that in part attempts to increase educational quality through stronger accountability mechanisms for teachers.

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