Tennessee teachers are back in school and gearing up for a productive year with their students. This is always an exciting time for educators and children, a time to make a fresh start.
As teachers return this year, they know many laws have changed that will impact their professional lives. They are also full of questions about the new system for evaluating their work.
School principals and other evaluators received training during the summer for implementation of the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM). These administrators are now providing orientation for teachers in their schools and preparing to begin classroom observations. Based on student data and multiple observations, teachers and principals will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is the highest rating. Theyâ€™ve also been told that a good, effective teacher rates a 3.
Teachers, like other professionals, want to be successful in their work. Most strive for the highest evaluation ratings. They arrive at school each day with the goal of creating the best possible learning environment for their students. Many have spent hours at home the night before grading student papers and preparing lessons for the day. They willingly give their best energy finding ways to help every child learn, including those who come to school tired or hungry or emotionally needy. Teachers want their students to succeed.
Teachers also welcome opportunities to improve. They yearn for quality professional development that will truly enhance their practice. The stateâ€™s First to the Top website declares, â€œThe primary function of the new evaluation system is to help improve instruction by developing instructional skills, increasing collaboration and communication, determining needed assistance, and differentiating effective practices.â€ These are goals teachers embrace. So why are many of them returning to their classrooms filled with apprehension?
The answer is pretty straightforward: There are still so many unknowns about the new evaluation system. Questions theyâ€™ve been asking since March are still unanswered. Some teachers have been told no one should expect a 5. Principals wonder how theyâ€™ll balance hundreds of classroom observations with their other duties. Special-education teachers, music teachers and librarians worry that their instruction canâ€™t be measured in the same way as a lesson in a â€œtypicalâ€ classroom. Those who teach in multiple schools, K-2 schools or in alternative schools donâ€™t know which student data will be used for their evaluations.
Conscientious teachers are anxious and apprehensive, because they want to be successful. They want to improve their instruction and will accept needed assistance. They donâ€™t object to being held accountable for their work. And they deserve a fair, valid and reliable evaluation system that truly measures what they do to help children every day.
Tennessee teachers share with parents and communities a most important common goal. They want their students to succeed. Will the new teacher evaluation system help them achieve that goal?
Gera Summerford is a high school math teacher from Sevier County and president of the Tennessee Education Association.
This story was featured in the Tennessean and can currently be read online.