Are You “Called” to Teach

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Why do people teach? The major reason someone says they teach is the ability to make a real difference in the lives of children. There are other reasons, including the fact that someone believes they are “called” to teach. Almost all teachers are linked together by a passion for educating children. The passion is innate and has to come from within.

Former Commissioner of Education in Tennessee, Candice McQueen, reminded a group of educators in a presentation that we were set apart in our mission. She pointed out the gifts that educators have are special talents and abilities. Educators are born for the mission that is being given for us. Dr. McQueen emphasized the profession is a special calling. She is correct.

We are all on a search for significance. We desire to make a difference. Educators are making a huge difference. That is why it is important that we honor them. It is the English social critic, Os Guinness, who stated: “Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are, but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be.” He then adds: “Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.” Education of the next generation is one of the most important occupations we could ever do. The belief that one is “called to teach” keeps women and men in education, even with all the unwanted public scrutiny.

Matthew Lynch writes about teaching as a calling: “A calling implies a deep-seated belief that teaching is the only profession that makes sense for you to pursue…” Dylan Fenton, an English teacher and writer does not like the term “calling,” as it creates to him an “idea that good teachers are born, not made and, as a result, allow themselves to stagnate.” I would argue that Lynch is more accurate than Fenton, as a passionate teacher never stops honing their craft. John Hunter, an award-winning teacher and educational consultant wrote: “I used to think teaching was a job. And then I thought it was a profession. And now I’m of the opinion that it’s a calling. It’s a very noble calling.”

Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” John Keating, in the movie Dead Poets Society challenged his students to not be resigned to that type of life. Yes, John Keating was subsequently fired, and probably never taught another class the rest of his life. However, he taught his students to find their own voice. It was his calling. If you have a profession that brings you passion, gives you someone other than yourself to care for, and is something that makes you want to get up in the morning to accomplish, you will not live a life of quiet desperation.

Teaching is indeed an imposing, self-sacrificing, but also a magnanimous calling. Going through the process to get certified, whether through traditional means or an alternative route is sometimes difficult. The creativity aspect of the profession has slowly been eroded. There is persistent negativity by some lawmakers and the media of public education. Compared to other professions, educators can expect a modest salary and sometimes extremely difficult working conditions. However, if you are called to teach, you will never find a happier place than in a classroom or serving students. Educators are set apart to make a difference. There is no other profession, except perhaps the clergy, that can change lives like a public-school teacher.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

The Importance of Mentors in Education

Teachers are some of the most admired people in our world. Teachers are role models. They inspire us and are admired for the skills they possess in helping others learn. Teachers are also normal people, who often get held to higher standards than politicians or even ministers. Like all of us, teachers make mistakes. However, no other group of professionals is as quick to give up on its members as public education administration when effective counseling would probably take care of the problem.

We know there is no magic fairy dust that is sprinkled on someone to make them an effective teacher. There is no genetic marker that an educator is born with that gives him or her a special skill. There is no Branch of Military Service equivalent that someone can join, like the Marine Corps, for example, that gives an individual training in moral, mental and physical strength needed to be successful in the education field. I would argue it is a lot of trial by error, support from colleagues and the prerequisite leadership in our schools that can shape the success or failure of an individual teacher.

I was blessed to have some extraordinary school leaders like Doyle Harmon in Meigs County, Tennessee and Ed Howard in Bradley County, Tennessee to really help guide me. However, one administrator, Ron Chastain, at Trewhitt Junior High School, really became a mentor, whether that was his goal or not. From him, I learned much about student discipline. I learned consistency mattered. I also learned that we needed to be empathetic, but also willing to be tough. He brought the right balance to the job.

Chastain, who still remains a friend, understood adolescent behavior better than anyone I have ever met. He understood that in order to teach, a classroom had to be orderly. In order to create a safe school for all students, discipline was required. I learned much more from Ron than I ever learned in my coursework in my undergrad and/or graduate work.

My question to policymakers: where can we find high-quality mentors for teachers and administrators? We take our new teachers and often toss them into the most difficult assignments like lambs to a slaughter. Then we wonder why discipline suffers and our teachers experience burnout and fatigue, ultimately leaving the profession. Administrators are often in the same boat. Sadly, we are missing that ingredient of mentorship in our schools today.

Our suggestion is to ensure that money is included in the future Basic Education Program (BEP) to allow for mentorship to occur, either by utilizing highly effective retired educators or granting stipends to experienced classroom teachers with a proven track record in classroom management. This strategy will likely impact teacher retention efforts in a positive fashion and create a better school environment with more consistent discipline and student behavior. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

Unlearning in an Age of Information

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I have been captivated by the subject of unlearning recently.  We are bombarded by a world of information.  We are probably, and perhaps technically, smarter than our ancestors.  However, they had the ability to keep things simple.  Why?  It was all they knew.  I think we should apply this to our own discipline of education.  What are we focused on that perhaps we should not bother with any longer? 

What do we need to unlearn?  

The problem isn’t learning: it’s unlearning.

Mark Bonchek wrote perhaps the most informative article on the subject in the Harvard Business Review, I encourage you to check out his work there.  Mr. Bonacheck wrote:

Ever since the publication of Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, 25 years ago, companies have sought to become “learning organizations” that continually transform themselves. In our era of digital disruption, this goal is more important than ever. But even the best companies still struggle to make real progress in this area.

One problem is that they’ve been focused on the wrong thing. The problem isn’t learning: it’s unlearning. In every aspect of business, we are operating with mental models that have grown outdated or obsolete, from strategy to marketing to organization to leadership. To embrace the new logic of value creation, we have to unlearn the old one.

Unlearning is not about forgetting. It’s about the ability to choose an alternative mental model or paradigm. When we learn, we add new skills or knowledge to what we already know. When we unlearn, we step outside the mental model in order to choose a different one.

As an example, last summer I rented a car to travel around Great Britain. I had never driven this kind of car before, so I had to learn the placement of the various controls. I also had to learn how to drive on the left side of the road. All of that was relatively easy. The hard part was unlearning how to drive on the right. I had to keep telling myself to “stay left.” It’s the reason crosswalks in London have reminders for pedestrians to “look right.” It’s not easy to unlearn the mental habits that no longer serve us.

The same thing happens in business. Many of the paradigms we learned in school and built our careers on are either incomplete or ineffective.

In strategy, an entire generation grew up with Michael Porter’s five forces. In this model, competitive advantage is achieved by driving costs down, driving prices up, locking in customers, and locking out competitors and entrants. In Porter’s view, “the essence of strategy is that you must set limits on what you’re trying to accomplish.”

But in a networked economy, the nature of strategy, value creation, and competitive advantage change from incremental to exponential. Companies like Google, Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook focus on how to remove limits rather than set them. They look beyond controlling the pipe that delivers a product and instead build platforms that enable others to create value. They look to create network effects through ecosystems of customers, suppliers, and partners.

The Porter model of strategy isn’t obsolete. But it is decidedly incomplete. It takes unlearning to see the model as only one possibility rather than canonical truth. As the saying goes, “The map is not the territory.”

In the field of marketing, our thinking is permeated by the mental model of mass communication. The world has become many-to-many, but we still operate with a one-to-many mindset. Everything is linear and transactional. We segment into discrete buckets even though people are multidimensional. We treat customers as consumers even when they want to be cocreators. We target buyers and run campaigns that push messages through channels even though real engagement increasingly happens through shared experiences. We move people through a pipeline that goes in one direction even though the customer journey is nonlinear.

We need to unlearn the push model of marketing and explore alternative models. For example, instead of using relationships to drive transactions, we could be building brand orbits and embedding transactions in relationships. Instead of customers being consumers, we could have relationships with them in a variety of roles and social facets. Beyond delivering a value proposition, we could be fulfilling a shared purpose.

In the area of organizational design, we are seeing an evolution from formal hierarchies to fluid networks. But this requires a substantial amount of unlearning. Our instincts are to think of an organization as an org chart. We automatically escalate decisions to the boss. I often hear executives talk about being “more networked,” but what they really mean is collaborating across the silos. To truly become a networked organization, you need decision principles that create both alignment and autonomy. But this requires unlearning in the areas of management, leadership, and governance.

The process of unlearning has three parts.

  • First, you have to recognize that the old mental model is no longer relevant or effective. This is a challenge because we are usually unconscious of our mental models. They are the proverbial water to the fish. In addition, we might be afraid to admit that the existing model is growing outdated. We have built our reputations and careers on the mastery of these old models. Letting go can seem like starting over and losing our status, authority, or sense of self.
  • Second, you need to find or create a new model that can better achieve your goals. At first, you will probably see this new model through the lens of the old. Many companies are ineffective in their use of social media because they still think of it as a channel for distributing a message. They haven’t made the mental shift from one-to-many to many-to-many. Social is best thought of as a context rather than a channel.
  • Third, you need to ingrain the new mental habits. This process is no different from creating a new behavioral habit, like your diet or golf swing. The tendency will be to fall back into the old way of thinking and therefore the old way of doing. It’s useful to create triggers that alert you to which model you are working from. For example, when you are talking about your customers, catch yourself when you call them “consumers” — this corresponds to a transactional mindset. Find a word that reflects a more collaborative relationship. The shift in language helps to reinforce the shift in mindset.

The good news is that practicing unlearning will make it easier and quicker to make the shifts as your brain adapts. (It’s a process called neuroplasticity.) You can see this process at work in an experiment by Destin Sandler and his “backwards bicycle.” Toward the end of the video you can see the unlearning process at work. One thing to look for is how the process itself is exponential. One moment he can’t ride the bike, and then the next moment he can. So as you begin unlearning, be patient with yourself — it’s not a linear process. Albert Einstein once said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In this time of transformative change, we need to be conscious of our mental models and ambidextrous in our thinking. Sometimes the incremental models of barriers to entry, linear campaigns, and hierarchical controls will be the right ones. But we need to unlearn these models and replace them with exponential models based on network effects, brand orbits, and distributed networks. The place to start is by unlearning how we think about learning.

Mark Bonchek is the Founder and CEO (Chief Epiphany Officer) of Shift Thinking. He works with leaders and organizations to update their thinking for a digital age. Sign up for the Shift newsletter and follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkBonchek.

Getting to “All Means All”

Eight steps to building an education system that delivers on the promise of excellence and equity

POSTED:October 20, 2014
Professor Paul Reville

To build the education system that the 21st century demands, says Professor Paul Reville, we have to look at what’s failed in our attempts to reform the 20th-century education system we’re still living with.

Speaking at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Bold Ideas & Critical Conversations event on September 19, Reville summarized the ways in which our current system is failing to meet the promise of excellence and equity in education. Despite more than 20 years of intense reform efforts, there is still “an iron-law correlation between socioeconomic status and educational achievement and attainment.”

Charting a new pathway toward “all means all,” Reville outlined eight broad ideas that both assess and take us beyond today’s shortcomings:

  • There is now a happy coincidence, Reville said, between what we ought to do and what is in our economic interest to do, which is to educate each and every one of our students to a high standard — to educate them for success in employment, citizenship, family life, and as lifelong learners.
  • Schooling alone is insufficient; it is too weak an intervention to overcome the disadvantages of poverty. “We want a society in which demographics are not destiny,” Reville said, noting that the work to meet that ideal has only just begun.
  • Our current system is outmoded, he continued, citing short school days and a one-size-fits-all approach. “We have a batch-processing, mass-production model of education that served us very well if we wanted to achieve a society in which we were sending a lot of people into low-skill, low-knowledge jobs,” Reville said. “But for high-skill, high-knowledge jobs in a post-industrial information age, we need a very different system.”
  • We need a new design — a new way to integrate systems of education and child development that delivers on the goal of preparing each and every student for success.
  • To get there, “we’re going to need to differentiate,” Reville said. We need a system that meets every child where he or she is, and gives them tools to be successful at each stage of their education.
  • We must become more intentional in mitigating the issues in children’s lives outside of school that get in the way of their success in school. He argues that we need to braid systems of health, mental health, and education, taking steps to build social and emotional learning and resiliency.
  • We have to increase access to out-of-school learning for all students. “Affluent families are doing more than ever before in the 80 percent of children’s lives [spent] outside of school to enrich their children’s education. Disadvantaged families can do less and less,” Reville said.
  • All of these needs and priorities are feeding into the creation of the Education Redesign Lab, a new initiative at HGSE that aims to spearhead a national conversation about how we will build a new system of education and child development that finally delivers on the promise of excellence and equity. Reville envisions a national design process that will bring together all of these elements of reform and create “a visionary blueprint for 21st-century education.”

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Credit to Usable Knowledge at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Website:  www.gse.harvard.edu/uk.

Changing the School Culture

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Perhaps the foremost expert on changing school culture in Tennessee is Dr. Ryan Jackson. People from across the country have taken notice of the amazing turn around he has done at Mt. Pleasant PreK-12 School in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. Ryan Jackson is beginning his 3rd year at Mt. Pleasant School in Maury County, and the culture shift that he has instigated is nothing short of amazing. We wanted a deeper probe of what he was doing, so his methods could be replicated.

In 2016, when Ryan Jackson first came to Mt. Pleasant School, it had a negative stigma attached to it. He immediately realized that the school lacked an identity. Being a firm believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he realized he needed to create a sense of belonging. The first thing he did was create ‘The Mount.’ More specifically, #TheMount which was strategic for a couple of reasons. Jackson relays, “One, it side-stepped the stigma. This was new. Some people thought it was like putting lipstick on a pig. But it did create a psychological shift. ‘We are The Mount’, not the old Mt. Pleasant and everything you thought about Mt. Pleasant before July 2016 has just changed including how we identify ourselves.” He continued, “It was more than just a rally cry; it was the beginning of this new identity and getting people to see Mt. Pleasant differently so we could one by one, person by person, student by student, teacher by teacher, community member by community member get them to come on board and feel like they belong.” It was not an overnight process but through repetition, constant branding, constant messaging, it was successful.

We have learned, as educators, that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. Ryan Jackson made social media an integral part of the culture shift. He stated, “Social media is a high yield strategy that costs absolutely nothing financially, just a time investment. It gives everyone, but specifically the immediate community, the windows of insight into what’s going on at the school. It gives them a proud thing to hang their hat on that they didn’t have in the past. I wanted them to see the fact that we had seven different CTE programs. We had multiple forms of art being represented. I wanted the community to see some of the cool project-based learning experiences that we had for kids…things that they would not know if they weren’t here on a day to day basis. I wanted the community members to have access into the school day via the social media platform. By doing so, we are getting the attention of more than just the community, but also the state and the nation as well.”

Jackson sees the social media posts as sort of a mini-commercial for his school. The community now sees them as a positive influence and thinks, “Wow, things really are changing [at Mt. Pleasant].” He reiterates, “Not only that, social media gives you the opportunity to highlight teachers, students and programs while reinforcing the belonging. When people have emotional connections to something, they will share it with others. You are literally evangelizing your message, your school.”

The rebranding, done primarily via social media, has also led to grants/partnerships from the community. Jackson attributes the Theater Renovation Grant for $67,000 that they got from Lowe’s to social media branding. These organizations vet the recipients of their grants, and when they google Mt. Pleasant High School, they start to see everything that they’ve done. Jackson reminds us, “No school is perfect, but you want to make sure that daily you are putting in enough credit that when something bad does happen, your credit is so high that there isn’t a negative impact.” They also got a $500,000 grant from Parker Hannifin Corporation with which they built an Innovation Lab. “Any school that is not leveraging social media power is missing an incredible opportunity,” Jackson emphasized.

Jackson admits that grants have assisted in the cultural turn-around by being financial affirmations. “Organizations see their money going to a school as investment which they believe they will see a return on. Those grants help to foster a shift from momentum to inertia. And now we are a school that cannot be stopped.”

Working with educators, we know there are a few who are resistant to change. When asking Jackson how he dealt with those who did not buy into his vision, he stated, “In any organization, there is always going to be the ‘toxic 2%.’ Annually, you’ve got to get rid of the toxic 2% because if you don’t, it can be like cancer and it will spread. Teachers/staff must grow or go. You will have that core group of people who will buy into your vision immediately.”

Ryan describes himself as a strength-finder leader. “We focus on our strengths and talents while managing our weaknesses. We devoted the first year entirely to changing the culture. We didn’t start on changing the curriculum until year two. We lifted people up, building capacity, building, supporting the teacher leaders. Then they took their network and influence to bring over the early majority. We showed wins in grants, school discipline, attendance etc. When you see your school logo on T-shirts at Walmart and RiteAid, the late majority is starting to look at it like ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this thing.’ Now we have buy-in from the early and late majority.”

Changing the school culture has not just changed the school, but it has transformed the community. Mt. Pleasant is a community of about 5200 people. Mt. Pleasant School is sort of a mini school system. Jackson explains, “[The school] has been a catalyst for everything. We have been positioned as the lighthouse for rural development and that starts with education. People are only going to move back to Main Street, America if they think their children have a great shot at an excellent education.”

Jackson continues, “We understood that fundamentally and made sure the city had something they were proud to hang their hat on in terms of their schools. Once we gave them a taste that this could turn out to be something incredible, we saw parental involvement go up. We started to see the community come out for football games and other events. Every 30 days we are showcasing something new and different such as the ‘Tiny House’ project we are working on or a mid-town barbeque festival with the community. Now we have the cooperation with the city government to raise $155,000 to build a Splash Pad for the community. It’s a multitude of things such as building an authentic partnership with city government and its schools so we can do things together that will improve the quality of life. It’s showcasing the programs in such a way that you can get parents and business owners excited about their local schools.”

Not only that, when you create a high-profile buzz with the rest of the country looking at you, it becomes infectious. Jackson proudly brags, “When the folks in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee hear that people from Palm Beach County, Florida, the 11th largest school district in the nation, are coming to visit to see what we are doing, they can’t argue with success. That is the attitude you have to adopt. The city is starting to feel like a winner again and it is long overdue.” He reiterates, “After you feel like you belong, then you will start feeling efficacious and capable. Then and only then can you transfer to self-actualization, just being your best. Mt. Pleasant’s new business owners are feeling capable. Now let’s give this thing a go because we all feel like we belong.”

When Ryan Jackson was asked what advice he would give to struggling administrators, he said, “First and foremost, be a leader, not a figure-head. You have to be present. People want to see their shepherd – ten toes down leadership. You are in the halls, in the classrooms. You’re engaging the students with fist-bumps, high-fives, ‘how you doing?’ You need to have mini conversations with kids and identify their passions. Get to know your staff on a personal level. For far too long leadership programs have emphasized that being a good manager is where you draw a firm line. I think things have just changed. [As administrators], we have to be smart, we have to be savvy and we have to be professional, but most importantly, we have to be present.”

With all that being said, part of partaking in a cultural shift is to change things. Jackson declares, “Sometimes, you’ve got to disrupt the norm. Be comfortable in being a stimulus for change. Great leaders are comfortable with dissent. You have got to understand that not everybody is going to see things as they should right away. But it is our job as a leader to influence them. Leadership is the art of influencing and you cannot influence people from behind a computer screen. If you are sending emails that are fear-based, that may last for a little bit, but everything is built on relationships. You have to establish those kinds of ground level relationships first.”

Jackson concludes, “It is your job as an administrator to become your biggest evangelist. Share your story. Highlight your success. Don’t be afraid to share some of your struggles or setbacks, because we are all human and fallible. We are looking to learn from our networks. So, you share within your networks- ideas, struggles and celebrations- in an effort to get better together.”

His biggest piece of advice is to “get out of the office, get in the hallways, in the classrooms, in the community. Be present at games and events. Get to know your students on a first name basis. Kids get excited when they know you know who they are and what they are passionate about. That stuff is life-changing; it’s psychological solutions. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.” No school in Tennessee has changed its culture more than ‘The Mount’. This school culture is an example of a strategy that other schools and districts can duplicate.

Bethany Bowman is the Director of Professional Learning for Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Ethics Training for Educators

Christy Ballard is the long time General Counsel of Tennessee Department of Education.   Nobody in the state knows Education Law better than Christy Ballard.  And  she shares her vast knowledge.   She regularly assists in the implementation and enforcement of Tennessee’s education laws and regulations by providing legal technical assistance to local school board attorneys, other state agency staff, legislators, LEA officials, teachers and the general public by providing the TDOE’s position on school related laws and regulations.

TNReady Results 2018

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We view assessment of students much like a school picture. It may not be an accurate depiction, but it is what the student looks like on that day. Our position at Professional Educators of Tennessee has always been that the fewer tests administered to students would equal less disruptions for students and teachers. We have worked with the Tennessee Department of Education toward this objective. We feel like progress has been made and will continue to work with them and the next governor toward this sensible objective.

The 2018 TNReady student assessment results showed mixed results, but state leaders saw encouraging areas of progress, and we celebrate that success. The majority of the 650,000 students who took the assessment this year did so on paper, but about 300,000 students took the test online. Students improved most in early grades reading, and narrowed achievement gaps. In addition, the results show a need for deeper, more sustained work to support improvement. The release of the results of the latest statewide assessment, while flawed, do provide a data point for educators to consider. We encourage them to look at the results, take the result seriously and consider the steps they need to take to help all students and schools succeed.

In general, we must always be careful in determining teacher performance based strictly on the test scores of students to whom the teacher is assigned during a school year. The risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance based on test scores is too high for it to be the major indicator of teacher performance, especially when you look at issues such as student demographic characteristics. A number of states, including Michigan, have since taken steps to lessen the impact test scores have on teacher evaluations, repeatedly mentioning factors outside an educator’s control which can influence a student’s academic performance. The interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.

Moving forward, it is worth noting that Dr. Bill Sanders, the creator of value added assessment, warned of the misuse of TVAAS for individual teacher data because of its volatility. We would certainly remind policymakers of this detail. In fact, classroom observations by trained personnel, along with teacher and principal input, would likely produce far more consistent and reliable data for assessing the quality of teaching than scores on an annual assessment. Assessment outcomes cannot be viewed as a reliable or significant indicator of Tennessee student proficiency until we have consecutive years of stable test delivery in which students and educators are confident.

We look forward to continuing the dialogue with policymakers and working with all stakeholders toward creating a better framework for both educator evaluation and student assessment in Tennessee. We have proven as a state that we are willing to be innovative and now we have the opportunity to get it right. We are committed to working with stakeholders to improve implementation of state assessment so that parents, educators, and policymakers can continue to know how our students are faring each year. As we build on our success, and we need to move forward together.

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Professional Educators of Tennessee is a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

A Professional Voice focused on Public Education in Tennessee

img_20180422_212449-1394880902.jpgAs professionals, our members are committed to supporting quality public education and the professional rights and obligations of the education community. Our members set the policy and priorities of  our association to meet the needs of Tennessee educators. Working in partnership with parents, business, community and government, we provide the programs and services that enable educators and schoolchildren to achieve their highest potential.  Professional Educators of Tennessee was created by Tennessee educators for Tennessee educators.  Our focus is the state of Tennessee.      

From professional development to information on the latest education trends, we offer a myriad of resources to help you in and out of the classroom. For over 39 years, Professional Educators of Tennessee has been serving great teachers across the state of Tennessee.  Our members have often been  at the forefront of education in the state.

As the fastest growing teacher association in the state, we know that our members can be catalysts for innovative solutions to the many challenges facing education.  We look forward to creating mutually beneficial partnerships to rethink curriculum, offer professional development, develop sound policy and improve educational environments and outcomes for students across Tennessee.  We have great legal services and member benefits as well!

Protecting your career is just as important as protecting any other life investment. That’s why we provide eligible members a superior protection package to protect you in the classroom with $2 million worth of liability insurance with access to our attorney’s that are available by phone, e-mail or fax during normal business hours.  In fact, we will gladly compare liability policies with any education organization serving teachers in the state. You can join for $189 a year, not over $600 like a union, with a national agenda.  Keep in mind we do not endorse or contribute to political parties or candidates with your dues. We are not a union.  

We work year-round as a professional, positive voice focused on uniting educators in support of an exemplary public education for every student in Tennessee.  We know vitriol and anger only hurts public education and never solves problems.  We understand in order to create a more effective system that provides the basic academic skills necessary for success in life for our students, that we must all work together. Education is a parental right, a state and local responsibility, and a national strategic interest.

It would be our honor to serve you.  Check Professional Educators of Tennessee out at www.proedtn.org

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Teachers are Going, Going….Gone

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We know without a doubt that teachers are the number one in-school influence on student achievement. Data indicates that in the last 20 years, teacher attrition has nearly doubled. In fact, 16–30% of teachers leave the teaching profession each year. It is estimated by some that school districts now spend $1B to $2.2B per year nationally replacing teachers. The average cost to replace a teacher is about $20,000 each in many districts. One-third of today’s teachers will retire in the next five years.

In Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond the authors maintain: “When students return to school this year, many will enter one of the more than 100,000 classrooms across the country staffed by an instructor who is not fully qualified to teach. This is because many districts, facing ongoing teacher shortages, are hiring underqualified candidates to fill vacancies.

When discussing why they leave, 18% of teachers see leadership as a key factor in whether or not they stay on the job. Leadership at the district level and building level is critical. Lack of collaboration time and sporadic Professional Development were other factors influencing teacher departure. An astounding statistic is that 90% of open teaching positions are created by teachers who left the profession. Other key influences Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond identified on turnover include “a lack of administrative support, working in districts with lower salaries, dissatisfactions with testing and accountability pressures, lack of opportunities for advancement, and dissatisfaction with working conditions.”

Experience in the classroom matters. Effectiveness increases substantially for the first 12 years a teacher is on the job. As teachers gain experience, their student absenteeism rates decline. Students with a highly effective teacher three years in a row can score 50 percentile points higher on achievement tests than students who have a less effective teacher three years in a row. “Turnover rates are highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast, where states tend to offer higher pay, support smaller class sizes, and make greater investments in education. Shortages also persist in specific areas: mathematics, science, special education, English language development, and foreign languages. Turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. Turnover rates are also 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color” added Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond.

Teacher turnover will eventually lead to a teacher shortage if the supply of new teachers via traditional or alternative routes cannot keep up with the demand. It appears we are heading in that direction. If we continue down that path, nationally and across the state, many underqualified candidates will eventually fill those vacancies. Research indicates that high rates of turnover harm student achievement in schools and districts. “In high-turnover schools, the inexperienced and underqualified teachers often hired to fill empty spots also have a negative impact on student learning” according to Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond.

To improve teacher retention, districts and schools must build strong leadership teams aligned to common goals. Schools should provide teachers with common planning time each week. Schools and districts should create a teacher mentorship program, partnering new teachers with veteran teachers. Districts must give teachers and administrators a choice in their professional development’s content and delivery method. There cannot be a one size fits all approach to PD, which too many districts try to mandate. For example, Professional Educators of Tennessee offers their members access to a state-of-the-art online learning portal so educators can get credits to renew their Tennessee Teacher’s License and learn about new and innovative teaching strategies. Educators are able to take the courses when and where it is convenient for them. Many of their offerings are TASL accredited classes as well. In addition, districts should focus on compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions.

We need to keep our most effective educators in the classroom and in public education. Our federal, state, and district policymakers must take this issue serious. We are losing too many good educators, and it is time we address the issue.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Cartoons in the Classroom

I write:  “Without outside assistance, communities across America simply cannot keep up with technology challenges, either from an economic standpoint or an access standpoint. That is why open-source and donated cloud technology has begun to find greater accepted use in classrooms across America.”

I was honored to write a chapter for the book Cartoons in the Classroom, with Ilya Spitalnik an internationally recognized thought leader, keynote speaker, entrepreneur  and technology adviser.  Ilya created PowToon to assist educators.   PowToon’s commitment to provide technology to educators, as well as their customized tutorials can help educators more effectively integrate cartoons into their teaching methods. You can download the book for free at https://s3.amazonaws.com/powtoon/books/Cartoons-in-the-Classroom-Book.pdf  

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