Toward Testing Transparency

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers thoughts on testing transparency as the next round of TNReady approaches.

Thomas Jefferson believed: “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” We could not agree more. In Tennessee, our state agencies have a core function to serve the citizen’s interest, and protect our taxpayers to the benefit of the state. To ensure our school districts have aligned standards and instructional practices, we must have greater transparency in testing. Recently, Senate Bill 753/House Bill 1246 was introduced to address this critical issue.

This legislation, which we call the Testing Transparency Act, is common sense and is supported by both the Professional Educators of Tennessee and the Tennessee School Boards Association. The legislation will require the Tennessee Department of Education to release 50 percent of questions, with correct answers, from the TCAP tests of the 2019-20 school year, 75 percent of questions, with correct answers, from the TCAP tests of the 2020-21 school year, and 100 percent of questions, with correct answers, from the TCAP tests of the 2021-22 school year, to each LEA and public school. This proposed legislation will require these questions to be sent no less than 30 days after completion of TCAP tests.

That sounds simple enough, and it allows the state time to develop an adequate supply of questions. More importantly, it creates transparency in the system, and restores trust to the process. This importance is critical, if stakeholders are to have any faith in our testing system. By releasing the test questions LEAs can:

  1. Have informed discussions about a school or district’s curriculum.
  2. Allow educators to explore the links between concepts they teach and ways to measure students’ understanding.
  3. Permit districts and educators to design their own assessment according to their needs.
  4. Encourage districts and educators to reflect on the performance of their students in comparison to the performance of students in other schools and districts.

Accurate or not, tests have come to be viewed by the public as indicators of how well schools are educating our children. If this were the sole standard by which we measure success, then we have failed students, parents, and taxpayers—and especially our educators. Our state has spent an inordinate amount of time and money to test our students, without much to show for our efforts. It is time that changes, and the state must be willing to embrace this needed transparency.

The fixation by policymakers with increasing test scores, often overlooks the point that many policymakers, stakeholders and the general public do not really understand testing and/or the process. This helps lift the veil of secrecy, fosters needed discussion and helps us better measure what our educators teach.

If you believe in the importance of testing, your support of the Testing Transparency Act helps ensure that our public schools are not judged with the wrong assessment tools. If you do not support the Testing Transparency Act, you will be unable to bolster a case to create a different way of measuring school performance and support continued spending on statewide testing without having a chance to see the results. Senate Bill 753/House Bill 1246 is needed in Tennessee, and we encourage its passage.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

PET on State of the State

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offered these comments in response to Governor Bill Lee’s State of the State:

Governor Bill Lee gave his first state of the state speech on Monday, March 4, 2019, from our state Capitol in Nashville, Tennessee. A highly anticipated address, it focused heavily on education issues including career and technical education initiatives, increased funding for school safety programs, and expansion of various school choice initiatives.

Since the beginning of his campaign, one of Governor Lee’s biggest priorities has been workforce development through expanding and strengthening career and technical education programs. As expected, he spoke more in-depth about his proposed Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education Initiative (GIVE) and how it fits into his administration’s proposed budget. Governor Lee sees this as an opportunity to help students develop the practical skills that help them perform in project-based environments, learn to work with others, and grow the discipline needed for success in a competitive workplace. It facilitates new partnerships between industry and our schools, and a more concrete connection between labor and education, which is a direction that the federal government has taken the past few years. The state will also expand and improve offerings in STEM, and CTE is a major priority. We applaud those investments in education.

TEACHER COMPENSATION
We are pleased that Governor Lee is fully funding the Basic Education Program and recommending $71 million for a well-deserved 2.5% pay raise for teachers. Compensation is the key to recruitment and retention of our educators. Our teacher compensation model needs to be competitive nationally. There is currently pending legislation from the administration that would require school districts to report to the department of education and the BEP review committee how they have implemented increased funding from the state for instructional wages and salaries, intended by legislators for teacher raises. This is a positive development. Governor Lee is sending a message to educators that he recognizes and appreciates their efforts and will work to see they are fairly compensated for their efforts.

TESTING
Policymakers and stakeholders have been waiting on a message from the governor about how he plans to improve our assessment system, to ensure that our metrics are empowering and informing, not inhibiting quality instruction, while providing accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. The Governor talked about the frustration around the administration of the state test, and he has charged the Commissioner with the procurement process. Going forward, he stated that his focus will be on executing a testing regimen that is trustworthy, helpful, and on time. However, he did not address other adjustments to testing, like a pilot project that allowed some districts to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT Suites as a means of assessment or flexibility in high performing districts to use alternative evaluations.

SCHOOL SAFETY
School safety is also a high priority for the Governor. The proposed School Safety Grant program includes $40 million aimed at addressing the need for an SRO in every school. This includes an increase in current recurring expenditures and a one-time infusion of an additional $20 million. The program will prioritize the approximately 500 schools that do not currently have an SRO. While there is a local match requirement, schools may include the costs of current safety measures in that calculation. For schools who already have SROs, there will be an application process for them to request grant funds for other safety-related initiatives as outlined in the proposed legislation.

“School safety has been a high priority for Professional Educators of Tennessee,” according to the executive director of the organization JC Bowman. The organization conducted a statewide assessment on safety in 2018. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Bowman also conducted a well-publicized School Safety Town Hall in Hamilton County in 2018.

“One of the highest priorities we can have in American society is the safety and protection of children – and the men and women who teach them,” according to Bowman. He added, “we think this is a very positive step in keeping our schools safe and reducing school violence.”

Helping students with mental health issues is another important component of school safety – especially children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Professional Educators of Tennessee has advocated for an increase in school counselors, whose work with students in this area of concern is of equal concern as their work helping student prepare to be college and career ready. The TN Department of Education launched a Trauma-Informed Schools initiative last fall to designate schools that have undergone training on how to create a school environment that both helps students and empowers teachers in their daily interactions with students. The program trains adults in the school to recognize and respond to those who have been affected by traumatic stress and includes training on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). We must make every school a safer place for all of our children.

CHARTER SCHOOLS
If a charter school is effective, then facility dollars may be a good investment. However, if a charter school fails to deliver on its promise of a quality education then the investment is a waste. Public schools are likely to also want to secure facility funding. We look forward to this debate and likely discussion. The state will eventually need to address facility growth in rapidly growing communities.

ED SAVINGS ACCOUNTS
For the most part, school choice is already available to upper-class families through residential mobility. However, low-income and middle-income parents/guardians have been subjected to limited choices for their children. This proposal by the Governor on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) will allow parents in the most under-performing school districts to use a portion of state education money in a way that fits with what they believe that their children need. ESAs will most certainly be the most problematic piece for the Governor to pass and enact. The Tennessee Education Savings Account will provide approximately $7,300 to eligible, participating students. Eligibility is limited to low-income students in districts with three or more schools ranked in the bottom 10% of schools. This currently includes Metro-Nashville Public Schools, Hamilton County, Knox County, Jackson-Madison County, Shelby County, and the Achievement School District.

“They will likely pose capacity limitations for low socio-economic parents,” noted Executive Director JC Bowman. “By targeting districts that are lower performing, Governor Lee may be able to pass it through the Tennessee General Assembly. Nevertheless, ESAs do not guarantee improved school effectiveness or outcomes, better parental involvement, and certainly no increased systemic investments in public education. A positive to Lee’s ESA plan is that it will invest at least $25 million new dollars in public schools in the first year to fill the gap when a student transfers to another school. However, we have concerns regarding the implementation of the plan as presented, as well as future expansion.”

CONCLUSION
There was much to like in Governor Lee’s State of the State. The debate over ESAs will likely be the most contentious and draw the most debate. A fully funded Basic Education Program (BEP), recommending $71 million and a 2.5% pay raise for teachers is much needed. We had hoped he would address other issues like school finance and discuss the possibilities of a school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. However, in general, we think most Tennesseans will react positively to the speech by Governor Lee. Those on the right will certainly love the attention to civics and character formation, as well as on curriculum in which he pledged to “root out” the influence of Common Core in our state. Those on the left will like increased funding for school safety programs going to SROs. He laid out a fairly ambitious agenda; it is now the Tennessee General Assembly’s turn to vote their opinion.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

On Teacher Morale

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers his thoughts on boosting teacher morale

We know psychologically that there is a connection between feeling of self-worth and actions. When teachers lose hope in their career, eventually they change the direction of their own future and in turn it impacts the future of our children. If you are an educator or have friends who are educators, you have undoubtedly discussed teacher morale in public education and thoughts on the future of education. Sadly, those thoughts were most likely negative. Educators who enter the field are often bright-eyed, confident, and enthusiastic. Teacher turnover is continuing to climb higher, yet those entering the field is going lower. What happened? That is the problem we must solve.

Teacher turnover holds back our schools and our students. How do you improve morale? It will take multiple strategies, which differ from community to community, district to district, school to school. Let’s look at four of the most prominent issues: educator compensation, lack of respect for educators, testing and out of control students.

Educator Compensation. Compensation is everything that is provided to the educator for their services. Compensation alone will not impact teacher morale. Governor Bill Haslam made teacher salaries a priority, and should be recognized for his efforts. It is debatable if dollars allocated for salary increases reached all classroom teachers. This may be attributed to district implemented pay plans. Educators should be involved in the development of those plans. Governor-elect Bill Lee indicated he intends to develop a pipeline of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession. This will likely include incentive compensation programs, together with stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations. Compensation can also be used to aid in hiring, and/or retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.

Lack of Respect for Educators. Teaching, a profession once held in high esteem, is being de-valued both by stakeholders and policymakers for a variety of reasons. Teachers, who are on the frontlines of parental dissatisfaction with the system, are often made scapegoats by people who have lost trust in the system. This lack of respect is reflected by lack of parental support and engagement. In fairness, some parents are supportive and work with educators to help ensure their children get the best possible education. Yet more often than not, parents simply blame the teacher for the problems at school. But even more than that, teachers often lack the support of their administrators, district, and even the state. Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation. Teachers, above all other professions, deserve the recognition and gratitude of a job well-done. Doing so on a regular basis will be a small step toward improving the teacher turnover rate.

Testing. The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators. Nobody would object to testing that benefits the teaching and learning process of students. As it stands currently, the data is not received in a timely manner and the results yield little or no benefit to the students. Educators would welcome a robust, practical solution to current assessment issues. A portfolio-based assessment model is also problematic. However, it may be a preferred model of student evaluation if it is not too time-consuming. It is based on a wide range of student work done over a long period of time, rather than on a single, paper-and-pencil test taken over a few hours. We must work to ensure that our assessments and the subsequent results are empowering and informing without being a time drain. Assessments should not inhibit quality instruction but provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. Most importantly, assessments should be not used a punitive measure against teachers.

Out of Control Students. Effective educators consider the root causes of misbehavior and develop appropriate solutions on a consistent, ongoing basis. However, some students need attention and intervention beyond the scope of what a classroom teacher can provide. It is imperative that a school and district adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as student instruction for all students. One possible policy has to be a better tracking of the time an educator has to spend on discipline issues. Do parents have the right to know, for example, if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently, they lose instruction time? School districts must balance their responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students. Without discipline, students cannot learn. Students themselves must respect rules and authority regardless of underlying disabilities/issues. Districts must have policies in place that protect all students’ right to learn.

There is no one size fits all strategy that will work in every school or district. This is a recurring theme among those who believe in local control in public education. Together, we can work to address teacher morale issues. Once a plan is in place, it is very important to examine, evaluate, and adjust as necessary.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Killing Public Education

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Bill O’Reilly has gone on quite a killing spree. He has written books such as Killing the Rising Sun, Killing Reagan, Killing Patton, Killing Jesus, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. I think he should also write one called Killing Public Education.

Here is what is killing public education:

  1. A Culture of Disrespect is rampant in our schools. This can be created by a variety of reasons. Lack of respect for a profession, which is roughly 80% female. Too many people incorrectly believing that anybody can be a teacher. The very structure of our public education system, as well as the state of our society, often means educators are the major authority figure in many children’s lives. This necessitates that educators are on the frontlines of the culture wars. This result in an ugly fact: teachers provide the only correction or discipline some children ever receive. This leads to a negative perception of teachers and public education in general.
  2. The struggles that most educators face are daunting. Poverty is systemic in our nation and it is particularly obvious in our Southern states. One high school principal told me: “My school has very high poverty and mobility rates. We can’t continue to blame failure on teachers and principals. Families are failing and the evidence of that damage is clear. We love our students and are dedicated to them. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is anymore. Eradicate poverty seems to be the obvious solution.” However, government has been trying to address this issue for well over 50 years. And it really hasn’t improved the situation. Family structures are being redefined and crumbling.
  3. We have become so driven by standards, testing and accountability that we have lost sight of what truly matters: children and those who educate our children. Testing has become big business; it is no longer merely a snapshot on a child’s progress. Data is the gold standard. We care more about what data tells us, than what a teacher tells us. And what do we know about the people creating the tests and interpreting the data? Data is not more important than children, or those that teach them. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Perhaps we are not looking at the right statistics.

Educators know what needs to be done to improve education. Unfortunately, their voices have too often been replaced by philanthropists, business leaders and outside organizations. Often these “outside influencers” are driven by poor understanding of the issues, self-serving interests or in some cases greed.

The argument often used to counter the power of educators is that public education needs to be run more like a business and be more efficient. These arguments often fail to consider the “inside influencers” of district policy, state policy, and federal rules, laws and controls which often end up essentially micro-managing our local schools.

If we do not want to kill public education, the teaching profession must be elevated in stature. Educators must be seen as community leaders both inside and outside of the classroom. Far too often the voices of classroom teachers are not included in the decisions that impact their livelihood or their students. Few occupations are given so little say in their chosen field.

Let’s not wait until the autopsy or until Bill O’Reilly writes another book to explain that educators must be given a more active role in determining the policies that concern their students and the teaching profession. It is imperative that that we accept and nurture the teacher-leaders we already have and look to them for the guidance we need to improve education.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

PET Talks TNReady

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee 

Tennessee has made a decade long effort to raise ours standards in public education, with mixed results and contentious debate among stakeholders and policymakers. We have high expectations for our students and our schools, which is a point all can agree upon. The appropriate role of assessment is still being debated. Getting it right is important. We need an accurate measure of student achievement and we must treat LEA’s and our educators fairly in this process.

We agree with the Tennessee Department of Education’s opinion that in previous transitions to more rigorous expectations, while scores dropped initially, they rose over the long term. We believe policymakers should continue to see Tennessee students perform better on national assessments.

One thing is certain: “This year’s scores cannot be compared to last year’s TCAP. And it is not practical to judge schools, students or educators by these results as we establish a new baseline with first year TNReady results” according to JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Professional Educators of Tennessee would caution policymakers to be less concerned with these test scores, especially with the frustrations of last year’s TNReady experience. We should put more emphasis on the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life. To that end we continue to work with the department to reduce the amount of standardized testing in our classrooms. And we are pleased that they have been proactive in that arena with us. TNReady is apparently on track to run smoothly this school year, and a lot of work is currently underway to ensure success. It is also important to know that the new testing vendor Questar, as well as the TNDOE, is making a genuine effort to work with classroom educators across the state to provide responsive customer service and high quality assessments.

In Tennessee, Questar is responsible for developing, administering, scoring and providing reports for the TNReady assessment program, including grades 3 through 8 State Summative Assessment in ELA and Math as well as State End-of-Course Assessments in ELA I, II, III; Algebra I and II; Geometry; and Integrated Math I, II, and III.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

JC Bowman on Literacy

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

Government spending is often portrayed as a freight train “quickly running out of track.” And there is some truth to that statement. There is not an endless supply of money to fund every good idea that comes along, and we must acknowledge that problem. Fiscal responsibility is a must.

That is why spending on priority issues like public education is important. You can spend $9,000 a year for a child to receive a quality education, or you can spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate an adult in some communities.

That is a harsh reality. You have read the statistics enough to know that there is an undeniable connection between literacy skills and incarceration rates. Children who do not read on grade level are more likely to dropout, use drugs or end up in prison. Research shows that reading abilities in third grade act as a tell-tale barometer for later school success.

Governor Haslam has wisely invested Tennessee dollars into literacy initiatives in 2016 because he knows poor reading skills are connected with unfavorable life outcomes. Low literacy is strongly related to crime. Low literacy is strongly related to unemployment. Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure. Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

We need to come together as a society and work to address the real issues facing our children. We need to have community conversations about what we expect from our local schools, but we need to recognize that the problems are much larger than what a school can address and are likely to be different in each community. A “one size fits all” approach simply does not work.

You probably know the line, which comes from Jim Collins’ bestselling business book, Good to Great: “Get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” It is important that we start prioritizing our spending, and over the long run it will save money that we can use to create a stronger public school system. And we have to get the right people into our classrooms and retain them.

When educated and intelligent citizens make informed decisions about what they want from their government and society, the outcome is far more likely to be positive. Similarly, if a good education system is in place for the next generation of children, the likelihood of societal stability is greatly increased. So it is important we get this right. Literacy is critical. And public education is a wise investment.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

JC Bowman on Hunger and Poverty

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

“Public Education” is on the lips of every politician, during every election cycle. Yet, the debate continues. It is doing well, it is doing poorly, it needs reform, whatever the narrative needs to be that day or what the audience wants to hear.

Well, there are three sides to every story: “Yours, mine, and the cold, hard truth,” like the old Don Henley song reminds us. Out of the roughly 55.5 million K-12 students in America, 49.5 million of them are in our public schools, which is a little over 89%. If you visit a public education classroom today, you would be amazed at what our educators do on a daily basis.

We must remind ourselves we are not producing components for an industrial and societal machine. We are educating children. We can all agree that an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. Teachers consistently tell us that “testing” and “preparing students for a test” are among their top concerns in our internal surveys.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

Educators, themselves, must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. Teachers face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen. Nearly every day, teachers must deal with diverse laws related to issues such as child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement. And many politicians are more concerned with a test score that their children produce than the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life.
Often educators must contend with the fact that students do not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food, if they have food at all at home. Issues like hunger and poverty, like it or not, are not imagined and they are prevalent in classrooms and schools across the nation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA.

It is hard to focus on education when you are hungry. Poverty and hunger also lead to other health issues, which also go untreated. What other profession besides public education teacher is evaluated on their students’ test scores, when students lack the basic necessities of life?

Steve Turner in his brilliant satirical poem “Creed” referenced the state of our culture, when he wrote prevailing illogical thought processes: “This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.” Seemingly educators bear the brunt of the outcomes of children, and society is a given a pass. The problems we confront are larger than the children walking through the school house door.

The solutions are more than a score on a test. So, when the next politician speaks about education when seeking your vote, ask them what their plans are to alleviate poverty and hunger in your community. That is much more important than test scores to a whole lot of families.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 


 

The Attacks on PET

Since September of last year, an anti-Professional Educators of Tennessee website has been up and running. The website, PETExposed.com, was started by Chattanooga activist Chris Brooks. I found this website after the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus shared a post from PETExposed.

Chris Brooks is a former Tennessee Education Association employee. When reached by TNEdReport, TEA responded that PETExposed “is not a TEA product. Chris Brooks no longer works at TEA, nor is he affiliated with the association.” I contacted TEA because I found Chris Brooks still listed on their website as an employee. I asked TEA when he was last affiliated with TEA because the PETExposed site was created six months ago, but they did not respond back.

The website largely attacks PET as a fake union and explicitly goes after the record of J.C. Bowman.

Bluff City Education ran a post from Bowman’s daughter to respond to the attacks from Chris Brooks.


 

 

Teachers Deserve Thanks, Not Blame

This article originally appeared in TREND, the online journal of the Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET).

 

Our schools reflect society, and society has undergone a dramatic shift from previous generations. A typical classroom today consists of many students with severe behavioral problems, limited knowledge of English usage, emotional and psychological difficulties, learning disabilities and attention-deficit disorders. And many suffer from abuse and other adverse home and socioeconomic conditions.

 

Unlike previous generations, many parents today send their kids to school unfed, unprepared and with little or no neither basic skills nor social skills. In many neighborhoods, it’s the school building, not the child’s home that provides a safe, secure and predictable haven. Despite these societal problems, we need to focus on the success stories of what’s right with our schools rather than what’s wrong with our schools.

 

In my previous work as a motivational speaker and professional development trainer, I have personally worked with thousands of teachers nationwide. I have found them to be caring, hardworking, dedicated, industrious and sincerely committed to the success of their students.

 

Teachers’ duties have now grown to the added dimensions of counselor, mentor, coach, resource person, mediator, motivator, enforcer and adviser. Instead of acknowledging that teaching is a demanding profession, critics will often focus on the supposedly shortened workday of teachers. Still others claim, “Yes, teachers are busy, but at least they get a planning period each day to help get things done.” In reality, the so-called planning period is really a misnomer. A typical teacher is so involved with the day’s activities that usually there is no time to stop and plan. Those minutes that are supposed to be devoted to planning are often filled with endless amounts of paperwork, meetings, interruptions, schedule changes, extra assigned duties, phone calls, conferences, gathering missed work for absent students, completing forms, submitting required data and on and on. Maybe they call it a planning period, because there’s NO time left for planning…period!

 

Most teachers leave the building long after the students’ dismissal time and usually with plenty of paperwork and tests to correct. Evenings are spent reviewing homework assignments and planning for the next day of teaching.

 

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate/license, once teachers begin to work in the classroom, they need to immediately continue their own education. During summertime, they are constantly updating their education, earning a graduate degree or two and making sure their teaching certificates are active and valid.

 

Too many people have the mistaken notion that anyone can teach. They think that they could teach because they have seen other people teach. Yet, when looking at other professions and occupations, these same people understand that they can’t perform those jobs. They may have briefly seen the cockpit of an airplane, but they don’t assume they can fly it. They may have spent an hour in a courtroom but don’t believe that they can practice law. They certainly don’t think they are able to perform surgery.

 

Every day, teachers are making a significant difference. At any given moment, teachers are influencing children in positive and meaningful ways. Many societal problems exist, such as violence, drugs, broken homes, poverty, economic crises and a variety of other woes. Teachers struggle with the turmoil of society while trying to offset the negative influences outside of school. As they roll up their sleeves and take strides to improve the lives of their students, teachers are the real heroes.

 

Today’s teacher is more than a transmitter of knowledge; the demands of the profession are ever-increasing. Many parents and taxpayers have an expectation that a school system should be the do all and be all in their children’s lives. Some parents have a notion that they can drop off their child at the schoolhouse door, and behold, 12 years later, they will be able to pick up a perfect specimen of a human being — well-rounded, academically proficient, emotionally sound, physically fit and ready to meet the next phase of life.

 

But we know that teachers cannot do it alone. A sound, safe and secure home life is essential. An effort on the parent’s part to prepare the child for school is vital. And parental involvement that results in a partnership in the child’s development is necessary. When that doesn’t occur, then it’s easy to scapegoat the classroom teacher.

 

As the school year begins, our public schools welcome everyone. The individual classroom teacher is faced with dozens and dozens of human beings who come to school in varying degrees of ability, potential, maturity, motivation levels, and readiness to learn. Students arrive with a tremendous amount of baggage, with various health and nutrition factors, family issues, neighborhood influences and differing socioeconomic levels.

 

In today’s climate of high stakes testing, business leaders and politicians continue to demand better results with data driven assessments and test scores. It is important to realize that the classroom is not a factory floor where uniformity and precise precision can be molded into just one final finished product. Unlike the manufacturing arena, teachers don’t select the raw materials (students).   All are welcome as teachers strive to meet and serve all levels and all kinds of students. Test results will always vary from low to high ranges because schools are dealing with human beings with varying degrees of potential.   The school is not an assembly line that can mass-produce exact templates of finished products meeting the same exact predetermined standard.

 

Instead of bashing our teachers, we should be conveying recognition, accolades, tributes and positive acknowledgments. Teachers deserve a sincere thank-you for the tremendous benefits they provide society. And that’s why my all-time favorite bumper sticker offers a profound and important declaration: “If you can read this … thank a teacher!”

 

In our schools today, there are thousands of success stories waiting to be told and there’s a need to proclaim those successes proudly and boldly. Teachers should stand tall and be proud of their chosen profession. Critics should not judge them unfairly. Together, let’s become teacher advocates and show admiration for the inspiring and important life-changing work they do

Dr. Tom Staszewski, a former middle school teacher, lives in Erie with his wife, Linda. He recently retired after a 35-year career in higher education administration. He is the author of “Total Teaching: Your Passion Makes it Happen” His email is tomstasz@neo.rr.com

Any Given Weekday

JC Bowman, Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, offers his thoughts on the need for flexibility and support for teachers.

I am an unabashed Tennessee Vols fan. I own at least fifteen orange shirts, as well as other Tennessee paraphernalia throughout my home and office. It has been a long and sometimes painful journey from the glory years of the late 1990’s until now, but it hasn’t stopped me from rooting for the home team.

College Football is a microcosm of life. We see young men with hope and excitement start every season with the belief that this is their year. And after a few losses they either keep fighting or they just give up. As fans, we have to also keep our belief in those young adults playing that game. These are young men & women who, for the most part, will not move into the professional ranks. Most of their football (or whatever sport they play) careers end when they graduate from college. A lucky few get to move up and play on Sunday. But very few of them will ever get that chance.

Life is also like that. We all compete at various levels. Maybe it is against a co-worker for a promotion. Perhaps it is your company against another for a contract. If you lose, you have a choice to either quit or keep going. Those that keep going usually end of more successful. Think of Peyton Manning. He had a serious neck injury, several surgeries and loss of arm strength. He could have quit. Who would have blamed him? He had a Hall of Fame career at that point. Yet he continues to defy the odds and play at an incredible level. His team is currently 4-0, and still he hasn’t played his best. But he doesn’t need me to tell him that; his own intrinsic drive will motivate him.

Educators are the same way. They understand their “team.” They don’t need scores to motivate them. They do not need fans to cheer for them. All of this helps, of course. However, what they most need is the freedom to teach. A teacher and education blogger from Georgia, Vicki Davis, wrote: “In our rush to make teachers accountable, we have made them accountable for the wrong things. We are pushing them to turn kids into memorizing automatons who remember a lot of facts only to forget them right after the test.” In fact, it is important to recognize that children are not widgets, so education reforms aimed at making better widgets is (not surprisingly) a failure.

There is an unforgettable line in a Suffern Middle School video “No Future Left Behind,” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kra_z9vMnHo) that says: “You can’t create my future with the tools of your past.” These students are deadly accurate. Ms. Davis adds: “We’re using a 20th-century measuring stick to measure a 21st-century learner.”

We need to give our local districts and schools much more flexibility. Thomas Askey, a teacher at the Baltimore School for the Arts, added: “Teaching should be approached as an art form that respects autonomy, individuality and critical engagement on the part of teachers.” Askey added that we need to “completely reorient the national narrative about the teaching profession.” Noah Berlatsky wrote in Reason: “Complete professional autonomy is dangerous -but so is obsessive micromanagement by distant politicians or nearby bureaucrats. If we don’t want our kids taught by slavish, debased drones, then we need to stop treating teachers like slavish, debased drones.”

As a Tennessee Vols supporter, I think that may be the same problem with our football team. We want what we had last century. Unfortunately, we have moved on to another century, with a new coach and new players. Perhaps the brick-by-brick philosophy espoused by Coach Butch Jones is not well-received in the “win now” world in which we live. However, I would argue it is the correct approach. I would also contend that giving schools greater flexibility and empowering our teachers to teach would be a more powerful strategy to make public education a success than many of the so-called education reforms. Go Vols!

 

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