Sharon Robinson Reflects on State of Teacher Education

By Joetta Sack-Min

Veteran civil rights advocate discusses need for more diverse teaching field, efforts to boost educator quality, and next steps for her work and Learning First Alliance organizations

Sharon Robinson recently retired as president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), but she’s planning to continue the work that has defined her career. Robinson has been a staunch advocate for professionalization of the teaching field and has pushed for policies that would enhance teacher learning and strengthen the quality of the teaching force. She has sounded the alarm about pending teacher and educator shortages, and has called for more recruitment of teachers of color as the student population becomes more diverse. AACTE runs the successful Holmes Program, which helps students from historically underrepresented populations pursue careers in education.

In a tribute video, Mark Ginsberg, dean of the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, noted that “Sharon has had an enormous impact, an impact on the organization, an impact on the field, and most importantly, an impact on the learners across the country.”

Robinson reflected on her career and next steps with the Learning First Alliance.

Q: You’ve recently retired as President and CEO of AACTE, but you plan to stay involved in the field. What’s next for you?

For the immediate future, I will be consulting on selected projects with AACTE as part of our leadership transition. Beyond that, I hope to have ongoing opportunities to engage on the topic of developing the education workforce and the profession.

Frankly, I believe we are underutilizing the talent we have already in the more than 3 million teachers and other educators in our schools nationwide. The strategic question now is how to deploy and engage the most highly educated segment of the population in a manner that honors the work and really benefits students.

Q: You’ve spent much of your career advocating for students who are disadvantaged and students of color. What should we be doing to better train teachers to meet their needs? Also, given the shortage of teachers of color, what are the most important things that we should do to attract and retain teachers from minority populations?

Students in every community should be treasured as an important intellectual asset to be developed for the greater good. As such, teaching students in what we call “challenging assignments” should be highly valued by society and viewed by educators as career enhancing. To get to that point, teacher education providers and school districts serving high-need populations must join together and make those schools the focus of state-of-the-art teaching and learning, research, innovation, and accountability. When these assignments are reserved for the best teachers and other collaborators, the most ambitious and dedicated novices will clamor for those assignments as well. As these schools become magnets for talent, recruitment will not be a problem.

To succeed in these settings, teachers need to know how to evaluate the impact of their instruction and what to do next based on this assessment. Then, these teachers must know how to exercise their professional responsibility to do what is indicated in the interest of the students – rather than what might be prescribed by those far from the school, far from the community, and far from the students.

Q: With fewer students entering colleges of education, and the significant rates of departure for teachers and principals, what will this mean for the state of public education and students?

The quality of American public education will suffer if we continue to be challenged with low recruitment and retention numbers. Interestingly, even with lower enrollment in educator preparation, we are producing enough teachers overall, but shortage is still an issue in certain locations, grades, and subjects. Retention of the existing teacher workforce is a strategic point of intervention that must be part of the shortage solution.

Q: What can be done to reverse these trends and ensure all students have access to well-trained, highly qualified teachers and staff?

I continue to believe that the LFA coalition has the power to design real solutions. While we must continue to fight ill-advised policy proposals on education workforce issues, it would be deeply gratifying to promote well-considered solutions from the profession.

Our professional community can solve the problems of practice when we unify at every level – but mostly locally. None of the highly touted top-down policies have made a dime’s worth of difference in learning outcomes for low-income communities. Every member organization of LFA is doing important work, some of it in partnership with other LFA members. We are creating solutions all the time. Now we have to push those solutions out and make them the new order. Show that change is happening and that the profession can be trusted to produce the desired outcomes. The systemic fix must be crafted and sustained by the profession, especially at the grassroots level. Let’s make it happen!

Thank you for speaking with us, and good luck!


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Sharon Robinson

"Teaching students in what we call 'challenging assignments' should be highly valued by society and viewed by educators as career enhancing." - Sharon P. Robinson