Students benefit from federal dollars for teacher training


Learning never stops for teachers.

Whether I’m exploring new online tools for my special education students, attending workshops on literacy or closely watching one of my more experienced colleagues teach their students, I’m constantly gathering new skills that I can bring to my own classroom.

That kind of perpetual growth isn’t just nice to have – it’s necessary if I’m going to prepare my students for success. Yet in too many schools and districts across the country, teachers receive low-quality professional development opportunities and must fend for themselves when it comes to finding training. This can lead to stale pedagogy and a culture where teachers act as islands rather than working as a team to improve the entire school.

That’s why it’s so critical that the U.S. Department of Education fully fund Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which covers professional development for teachers. In some states, like North Carolina, where state money for professional development has been cut entirely, federal dollars are one of the few ways schools can afford such training. Fully funding Title II will help schools recruit and retain talented teachers, create opportunities for more effective professional development, and, ultimately, drive better student outcomes. This is exactly what I told U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when I met with her recently to talk about Title II.

“I wouldn’t be the teacher leader I am today without high-quality and consistent professional development and without the chance to be a leader in my school.”

For me, professional development has been not only a way to improve my own instruction, but also a way to become a leader in my school while remaining in the classroom. I serve on a small team of teachers that design professional development for my entire school. Collaborating with administrators, we dig into students’ test data to see where we need to offer professional development as a school. This year, we are focused on close reading skills for our students. Afterward, we observe each other in the classroom, a practice that has energized our school and made all of us stronger instructors. I’m in my fourth year of teaching, so having the chance to observe my colleagues in action has been a powerful learning experience for me.

In a recent national survey of teachers by Educators for Excellence, “Voices from the Classroom,” a staggering 92 percent of teachers say they wish there were more opportunities to further their careers and professional skills while staying in the classroom. Despite that, less than half of teachers said they feel supported by their administration to take on leadership roles in their schools.

Creating opportunities for educators to become professional development leaders while remaining in the classroom, not only builds skills, but also fosters a collaborative school culture. In many schools, teachers have limited influence in determining their own professional development. But when training is teacher-led as it is at my school, teachers work together to build trust, hold each other accountable and bring each other up.

I feel really grateful to have a voice in the way I’m growing as teacher. I wouldn’t be the teacher leader I am today without high-quality and consistent professional development and without the chance to be a leader in my school.

Teaching is already one of the hardest jobs there is. We need to use Title II to give educators the time and support to make sure we can be successful both in our leadership positions and in front of our kids.

Dharini Dharmadasa is a special education teacher at Sunrise Elementary in Los Angeles.