2017 is almost in the books, and it has been a whirlwind in the state of Tennessee. Students are continuing to show growth, so much so that the eyes of the country are fixed on the Volunteer State. In districts from Memphis to Maryville, phrases such as “bridge to postsecondary”, “personalized learning”, and “all means all” are contributing to vertically aligned learning communities committed to providing a relevant and demanding education for all students.
Much of that success is due to the collective efficacy that exists at the state level; a partnership between the Governor and Department of Education who do not fear lofty goals. Sure enough, the accomplishments of the past five years have proven that no ambition is out of reach. So, where do we go from here? As the page turns to 2018, here are my 5 wishes for Tennessee teachers and students:
1. I wish for the next Governor to invest in education as much as the current one has.
You don’t have to lean left or right to see that Governor Haslam has made Tennessee students a priority during his 8 years in office. This unprecedented growth has taken place under his leadership, and Haslam has shown a willingness to listen to teachers and meet with them regularly. I have no idea what the Governor’s seat will look like this time next year, but my wish is for the person who holds the office, Democrat or Republican, to continue prioritizing teacher voice and leadership.
2. I wish for an equitable solution to emerge regarding teacher evaluations.
For the first 6 years of the TEAM model, I taught untested subjects. This year, I teach biology. The difference in the level of personal responsibility and accountability is staggering. Essentially, there are two types of teaching positions in a school: those who carry the weight of school effectiveness on their shoulders, and those who depend on that data as a component of their evaluation. It is a significant imbalance, and it can have a debilitating effect on a school trying to establish a culture of shared responsibility. Can all teachers have some individual measurement of effectiveness? Or, perhaps all teachers need to contribute to and feed from school level schools. This is one of those few times where I believe fair and equal can be one in the same.
3. I wish for the occupational diploma to count towards, not against, graduation rate.
I love the occupational diploma because it meets the needs of so many students. Recent data shows that former special education students earn an average of $4.00 an hour less than former general education students. One of the best ways to close this gap is by demanding that students with disabilities graduate with a skillset and a practical transition plan. The occupational diploma serves that role, and I applaud Tennessee for offering that pathway for students.
I know the occupational diploma has a different set of standards and expectations than a traditional diploma does. However, the system created to measure school effectiveness includes graduation rate as a metric. Occupational diplomas currently do not meet that criteria, so any student who earns one counts against the school’s graduation rate. There is a clear conflict of interest that needs to be discussed.. We have to be realistic for a moment: education is a business and graduates are the product. If we are serious about offering the occupational diploma as the right choice for some students, we have to remove the consequence for schools that is attached. I wish for this to be considered and amended to reflect a policy that can be best for students and schools.
4. I wish for more innovative opportunities and hybrid roles for teachers in 2018.
You know what would be great for teachers and students - a teacher elected to a state senate position. Imagine the influence and pipeline for teacher voice that could be created. It won’t happen, though, because teachers are in the classroom. There has to be a way to open the door so that a teacher can assume the role of policy maker. As it stands, our role in policy is limited to influence.
I also wish for districts to continue exploring innovative ways to use teachers that leverage their strengths. We all know the school calendar is very archaic in its design. I urge all stakeholders to come together and find a way to break free from the chains of the 7.5 hour school day. I believe this is the best way to help students overcome the variables that exist outside of their school lives. If we expect to continue achieving unparalleled results, we have to challenge our mindsets and beliefs regarding what school and learning looks like.
5. I wish for more conferences in 2018.
One of the perks of serving as a Hope Street Group Fellow, an ASCD Emerging Leader, and presenting at last year’s LEAD Conference is the opportunity to attend events that grow my professional learning network and improve my skills as an educator. Convenings have a way of re-charging my battery and teachers need that. Throw in some swag and I am happy as can be. We have amazing people teaching our students across Tennessee, and when they come together our profession is at its very best. There are many events throughout the year for teachers to attend and for that I am grateful. But this is a wish, and I wish for more!
Have any wishes of your own? Share them in the comments section or tweet them out at unpackedu.