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


 

Bargain Prices on Teachers in Tennessee

Two years ago, I wrote about the teacher wage gap in Tennessee — the fact that teachers in Tennessee earned nearly 30% less than similarly prepared professionals. Now, the Economic Policy Institute has updated their study of teacher pay relative to other professions.

Guess what?

Tennessee teachers still come at bargain basement prices!

While there is some (slightly) encouraging news, the bottom line: Teacher pay in Tennessee is still not really improving relative to other professions.

This year’s results indicate a national average teacher pay gap of 23.8%. Tennessee’s gap is 27.3%. That’s an improvement of two points for Tennessee, which had a gap of 29.3% two years ago.

That said, Tennessee’s gap is still worse than the national average and among the worst in the Southeast.

Of 12 Southeastern states, Tennessee ranks 8th in teacher pay gap — that’s up one place from 9th two years ago.

Here are the numbers:

Mississippi                   18.9%

South Carolina            20.5%

West Virginia              21.2%

Louisiana                     23.5%

Arkansas                      24.3%

Kentucky                     24.6%

Florida                         25.7%

Tennessee              27.3%

Georgia                       29%

Alabama                     29.4%

Virginia                      33.6%

North Carolina         35.5%

 

Yes, the authors acknowledge that teacher benefit packages tend to be more generous than those offered other professionals. By their analysis, teachers have a benefits package that is a bit more than 7% more generous than similar professionals. The most expensive of these benefits is healthcare, followed by defined-benefit pensions.

Tennessee teacher healthcare benefits vary by district, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll assume that Tennessee teachers receive the national average benefits advantage.

Doing so means Tennessee teachers are still paid 20% less than similarly-trained professionals.

While some progress on this front is better than none at all, continuing down this road is not sustainable. Investing in teachers by providing compensation on par with other professions requiring similar education and training is essential to recruitment and retention.

Tennessee’s next Governor and the General Assembly sworn-in in January of 2019 should move past studying the issue and get to work finding long-term solutions to close this gap and pay our teachers the salaries they deserve.

 

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

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Personally

It’s that time of year again. The time when the Tennessee Department of Education asks teachers for feedback so they can compile it and put into pretty graphs and ignore absolutely all of the responses.

Well, one teacher from Sumner County received an email about having not yet responded. Here it is:

My name is Isaiah Bailey, and I am part of a team working to amplify educators’ voices through various means, including the annual Tennessee Educator Survey. I consider it an honor to be so deeply engaged with advancing the interests of Tennessee educators, and look forward to continuing this work.

I have included your personalized Tennessee Educator Survey link here. I understand that you may have been asked to complete various other surveys around this time of year, and I apologize for any confusion this may have caused. Please note that this is the same survey for which you received an invitation from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance.

More than 31,000 educators around the state have already shared their thoughts on various issues including school climate, testing, professional learning, and more via this year’s survey. But given that the current teacher participation rate for Sumner County is 38 percent, it feels especially important that this survey incorporate more of the perspectives that only you and your colleagues in Sumner County can speak to.

At the same time, the current teacher participation rate for your school is 34%. If your school reaches at least 67 percent by the end of the day tomorrow, your staff will become eligible for a drawing that will award several grants of $500 to be used toward staff appreciation.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Since Mr. Bailey asked, this teacher responded:

Isaiah,
Thank you for personally reaching out. I have some thoughts I’d like to share.
First, as a veteran educator, I’m familiar with the adage that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
You are correct, I have not responded to the state’s survey. Your email indicates that a majority of my colleagues at my school and in my district have not responded, either.
Here’s why: The Tennessee Department of Education has demonstrated time and again that you don’t care.
Teachers speak out on testing, portfolios, RTI, adequate resources, and pay – and year after year we are ignored.
Teachers inquire about the validity of measures such as TVAAS and we are ignored.
Teachers clamor for schools staffed with guidance counselors and nurses to care for the children we teach, and we are ignored.
I’ve filled out this survey in the past, and nothing has changed.
Tennessee keeps building the plane while it is flying — this is unacceptable.
You asked for my personal perspective. Now, you have it.
I’d suggest you share it with your bosses, but I know that even if you did, nothing would change.
Now, I’ll go back to showing my students I care — about them, their interests, their futures.
It seems Mr. Bailey and the TDOE broke a key rule — don’t ask a question if you don’t actually want the answer.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Teacher Turnover in MNPS

It is a problem. A big one. The Tennessean reports:

Over 50 percent of the teachers leaving Metro Nashville Public Schools are within their first three years of teaching, according to district officials.

The article notes the district is taking some steps to address this:

Due to the high turnover, district leaders said they hope to expand retention initiatives in the coming year by making mandatory a new teacher introductory program, as well as ensuring all new teachers have a seasoned mentors to guide them.

Those are both important. Mentoring can be a great way to help new teachers navigate their first years in a very challenging profession.

School Board member Amy Frogge also raised the issue of teacher pay. It’s certainly worth examining.

As I noted earlier this week, teachers in Nashville aren’t paid as well as their counterparts in similar urban districts, like Louisville. They also face a city with a rising cost of living.

This fact should be of concern:

The salary to live comfortably in Louisville is $49,000. Teachers in Louisville hit that pay rate by year 5. A teacher in Nashville isn’t making $49,000 even after 10 years of experience. The pay scale in Nashville simply isn’t moving up quickly enough.

Teach your heart out in MNPS for 10 years and you still don’t make $50,000 a year. Is it any wonder teachers leave early on to pursue other, more financially rewarding careers?

No, it’s not all about money. But when teachers in Nashville can’t even earn enough to live comfortably in the city, we have a problem. When teachers in Nashville earn $15,000 less than teachers in Louisville after 20 years of experience, we have a problem.

Leaving behind the comparison to Louisville, one big problem is teacher pay relative to cost of living:

Imagine working for 25 years in the same profession, earning an advanced degree in your field, and making $7000 less than the “comfortable living” salary for your city? That’s what’s happening in MNPS.

Another part of the problem with teacher pay in Nashville can be attributed to a state government that has historically kept teacher pay relatively low. In fact, teachers in Tennessee earn roughly 30% less than similarly educated professionals.

Certainly, a number of factors contribute to high teacher turnover among early career teachers. Teaching is a difficult job and doing it well requires resources and support. Teacher pay is certainly a part of the equation. Adding mentors and mandating an introductory program may help, but addressing pay is also essential. As the Tennessean article notes:

Last year, the district faced more than 100 vacancies by the end of July and with about a week until school started. That was higher than in previous years, given the district has averaged about 40 teacher vacancies at the beginning of the school year.

It’s difficult to sign people up for a challenging job that pays 30% less than other professions requiring similar preparation. It’s clearly challenging to keep people in those jobs once they’ve taken them.

How long will MNPS’s relatively low pay for teachers be sustainable?

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


 

The Fortunate 46

I reported earlier this week that the State Board of Education increased both the minimum base salary and the salary matrix at each step by four percent. I noted then that this would require salary increases for teachers in 46 districts across the state.

Here’s the list of the districts where the salary schedule increase will mean a mandatory raise for teachers:

Cannon                         Hollow Rock

West Carroll                 Carter

Claiborne                      Clay

Cocke                            Crockett

Alamo                           Cumberland

Decatur                        Dekalb

Dickson                        Fayette

Fentress                       Humboldt

Milan                            Bradford

Grainger                       Grundy

Hancock                       Hardin

Hawkins                       Haywood

Hickman                      Humphreys

Jackson                        Johnson County

Lake                              McNairy

Monroe                        Morgan

Overton                       Perry

Pickett                         Rhea

Scott                            Oneida

Sequatchie                 Smith

Sullivan                      Unicoi

Union                         Van Buren

Wayne                        Weakley

Here’s a link to the new minimum salary schedule.

The new minimum base pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $33,745 and the new minimum for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and more than 10 years experience is $40,595.

Yes, these numbers are pretty low. So, it’s unfortunate that 46 districts are being forced to raise pay based on the schedule adjustment. But, these are largely rural districts that are heavily dependent on state funding to run their systems.

The action of the SBE this week is a welcome change from the past few years when they increased the salary schedule by only a fraction of the new money allocated for teacher compensation through the BEP. If this trend continues, Tennessee may well become the fastest-improving state in teacher compensation.

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


 

 

Mike Stein on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights

Coffee County teacher Mike Stein offers his thoughts on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights (SB14/HB1074) being sponsored at the General Assembly by Mark Green of Clarksville and Jay Reedy of Erin.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

In my view, the most impactful elements of the Teachers’ Bill of Rights are the last four items. Teachers have been saying for decades that we shouldn’t be expected to purchase our own school supplies. No other profession does that. Additionally, it makes much-needed changes to the evaluation system. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the notion that we should be evaluated by other educators with the same expertise. While good teaching is good teaching, there are content-specific strategies that only experts in that subject would truly be able to appreciate fully. Both the Coffee County Education Association and the Tennessee Education Association support this bill.

And here are those four items he references:

This bill further provides that an educator is not: (1) Required to spend the educator’s personal money to appropriately equip a classroom; (2) Evaluated by professionals, under the teacher evaluation advisory committee, without the same subject matter expertise as the educator; (3) Evaluated based on the performance of students whom the educator has never taught; or (4) Relocated to a different school based solely on test scores from state mandated assessments.

The legislation would change the teacher evaluation system by effectively eliminating TVAAS scores from the evaluations of teachers in non-tested subjects — those scores may be replaced by portfolios, an idea the state has rolled out but not funded. Additionally, identifying subject matter specific evaluators could prove difficult, but would likely provide stronger, more relevant evaluations.

Currently, teachers aren’t required to spend their own money on classrooms, but many teachers do because schools too often lack the resources to meet the needs of students. It’s good to see Senator Green and Rep. Reedy drawing attention to the important issue of classroom resources.

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


 

Doing the Right Thing

Shelby County’s Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson announced that all teachers will receive a three percent raise this year, not just those who meet certain scores on the state’s flawed value-added evaluation system.

More from Chalkbeat:

Hopson told the district’s educators in an email Thursday that they’ll see the raise reflected in their Nov. 18 paychecks. The pay hikes will be retroactive and will also go to librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers, physical/speech therapists and psychologists.

The decision came after Hopson learned that the district won’t receive the state’s testing data until December.

The decision by Hopson came about as a result of last year’s TNReady debacle. It also came in the same week that Knox County’s School Board asked the state for a waiver from included this year’s TNReady test results in student grades and teacher evaluations.

Hopson made the right decision — it is unfair to ask teachers to wait to receive pay raises because of the state’s mistakes with TNReady. It’s also unfair to use data from last year’s mess of a test administration to evaluate teachers. While I’ve expressed doubts about the usefulness of value-added data in evaluating teachers, even those who haven’t should acknowledge that using data from last year (or this year) is problematic.

Shelby County educators will all see a raise this year. The next question: Will the school board there join Knox County in requesting a waiver from using test data for students and teachers this year?

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


 

Filling the Wage Gap

Yesterday, I reported on the national wage gap between teachers and other professionals and dug into the data to look at the impact on Tennessee.

It’s pretty disappointing nationally, but the Tennessee numbers are especially disturbing: Below the national average and even about 3 points below the Southeastern average.

We can do better.

Here’s the good news: The Department of Finance and Administration recently released revenue numbers for the fiscal year that ended June 30th. Turns out, we have LOTS of extra money.

Specifically:

Year-to-date revenues for 12 months were $925.0 million more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded revenues in the amount of $852.4 million more than the budgeted estimate, and the four other funds $72.6 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Yes, that’s right, $925 million MORE than we planned on having.

To fully close the wage gap for teachers, we’d need around $500 million which would result in a raise of about $10,000 per teacher.

With this available surplus, Tennessee could become the first state in the nation to close the wage gap completely. And we could do it with $425 million to spare. That’s pretty conservative. Oh, and we could do it without raising a single tax.

An even more conservative approach would be to phase-in wage gap closure over two to three years to ensure revenue is keeping up. That could mean an average raise of about $5000 per teacher in the first year and slightly smaller, but significant raises in successive years.

A move like that would grab national attention. Suddenly, our neighbors in Kentucky and Alabama could no longer say they offer a better value proposition for their teachers.

We would not only deliver on becoming the fastest-improving state in teacher salaries, we’d be doing it in a fiscally responsible, conservative way.

If you’re in college and want to be a teacher, wouldn’t you want to go where you could make just as much as your professional peers? In Tennessee, you’re making 30% less at current numbers. But the budget situation in our state means it doesn’t have to be that way.

The first state in the nation to close the teacher wage gap. It could be Tennessee.

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


 

 

Teacher Shortage Hits Tennessee Cities

Chalkbeat reports on the state’s big cities missing a significant number of teachers at the start of the school year:

About 100 Shelby County Schools classrooms still lack full-time teachers, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday, the first day of school, after a tour at Bruce Elementary.

And the problem wasn’t limited to Shelby County:

And it’s not the only district with vacancies left open. Metro Nashville, a slightly smaller district, lists nearly 80 open teaching jobs, and the third-largest district in the state, Knox County, needs more than forty. Across the board, districts are most hurting for special education teachers, though there are vacancies in nearly every subject.

The shortage noted in the big districts tracks information reported at TNEdReport back in 2014:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

While there are many reasons for the shortfall, it’s worth noting that the first days of school set the tone for the entire year. So much so that incoming MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has said it’s critical that every classroom have a full-time teacher on day one.

UPDATE: MNPS reports that the actual number of unfilled vacancies on Day 1 was 34.5, a better number than they’ve had in recent years.

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


 

 

 

MNPS Unveils New Pay Scale

WSMV reports that MNPS has unveiled its new teacher pay scale:

Metro Schools has unveiled a new pay scale for teachers, which will show as soon as their next paycheck.
The school district says the pay scale will deliver a “significant pay increase” for many teachers.

According to the old scale, teachers with eight years or less of experience were paid $42,082 and teachers with 10 years of experience were paid $44,536.

With the new pay scale, salaries will range between $42,100 and $44,750 for teachers with under 10 years of experience. Teachers with 10 years of experience will earn $47,000.

Here’s a link to the complete pay scale for certified teachers.

A previous analysis found that MNPS lags behind several similar districts in terms of teacher pay.

The upgraded scale shows that teachers with 10 years of experience are now closer to their peers in similar urban districts. However, teachers at the top end of the scale still lag behind their peers in similar districts. Still, the move marks progress and an important investment in the teachers of MNPS.

More on Teacher Pay:

The Importance of Teacher Pay

The Value Proposition for Teachers

You Can’t Buy Groceries with Gratitude

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