TENNESSEE TEACHER APPRECIATION

“His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of mans heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”
William Golding, Lord of the Flies

 

A couple disclaimers here before we get started. First up, please be gracious with any grammatical or spelling errors you find. I’ve always had a tenuous at best relationship with grammar and spelling, but due to complications with diabetes., my eyesight has considerably worsened over the last couple of months. Now it’s nothing to be overly concerned with, it is being treated, but diminished vision is a reality.

The second thing is, this post is going to require you to slip on a little bit of a tin hat, but I think if you look around, you’ll see evidence of what I’m talking about. Under the guise of reformation, the teaching profession is under direct attack. If you need evidence. look at the recently passed Tennessee school funding bill which allowed for tutors to be directly funded, but teachers are part of the base.

In other words, if legislators want to put money in the education budget for tutors, they can directly fund it without incurring any additional financial costs. If legislators want to do the same with teachers, they are required to add the funds to the base, which means any of that money must flow through the additional weights – ELL, Poverty, signs of dyslexia, etc – and requires additional investment from legislators. As stated on the statehouse floor by no less of an expert than the Commissioner of Education, if legislators want to put in $100 million in the education base, they have to designate $217 million to account for the weights. She calls it ‘generating” benefits.

Don’tforget, a budget is a moral document, as it demonstrates what we value. In the state of Tennessee, tutors are more valued than teachers. It’s been codified in case you doubt it.

While we are running around chasing charter schools and pushing back against “banned” books – both worthy causes but suck the air out of every conversation – there is an insidious game afoot. One that is being orchestrated by the same folks who thrust Common Core on us. This isn’t a cadre of individuals meeting at the cemetery at midnight in robes with candles, but rather a well-connected group of individuals setting policy in a handful of states, in a manner that benefits them.

If you look across the country at states where most of the dastardly deeds are transpiring, it mostly comes down to a handful – Tennessee, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Colorado. Sure there are challenges in other states, but these are the primary disruptors, with one common denominator, they are led by state superintendents with ties to Chiefs For Change.

Just in case you are unfamiliar, Chiefs for Change is an organization founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Initially, it was comprised solely of state superintendents, but once the initial group was all fired or disgraced, membership was opened to individual district leaders. Chiefs receive much of their funding from the Gates organization and generously distribute funds to organizations promoting their goals and initiatives, kinda like a glorified bag man. Chiefs for Change was heavily invested in TISA legislation and provided pro bono services to Commissioner Schwinn to assist with passage.

They have operated in Tennesse, for at least four years, sans a contract or scope of work, despite doing work in the name of the TNDOE. Did you like that fancy TNDOE website? You didn’t think that was created by Schwinn and company, did you?  What? The seven people still working there somehow found time to make and maintain a fancy website in addition to all their other duties? That’s rich.

Chiefs for Change, acting on behalf of the state, hired a third-party vendor to create and maintain the website. Who that vendor was, is anybody’s guess because Chiefs for Change is not subject to the same level of oversight as that required by government officials. Here would have been a good place to put to use that phishing training that all of us receive through our employers. The website, which one would assume is a state-sponsored site – FundingforStudentSuccess.org – is .org and not a .gov. Hope you didn’t give them your information.

Much has been written about Tennessee’s ELA adoption process back in 2019. As part of that process, the commissioner’s favorites, CKLA and Wit and Wisdom, made it onto the district’s adoption lists despite initially failing to meet the criteria. This was after, Commissioner Schwinn paid $5k to Chiefs for Change to review our state ELA standards. A review that shockingly showed Tennesse’s review process for instructional materials lacking and in need of reformation. Noticing a pattern here yet.

In the past, districts could adopt and not adapt. It happened all the time, districts would select materials but then wouldn’t purchase, due to financial considerations. That is no longer a consideration,  Recent changes in legislation have allowed the TNDOE to forcibly demand that districts implement adopted materials with fidelity. A role that they have embraced.

For lack of a better word, I’ll call those working behind the scenes to change public education, disruptors. Disruptors envision a world where teachers follow adopted programs to the letter and where every student is magically on the same page of instruction. In trying to bring this to fruition, Schwinn’s Chief bottle washer, state assistant superintendent Lisa Coons, is pushing LEAs to fall in line and use adopted material exclusively, using every tool at her disposal.

Last week offered an example of what I’m talking about. Four teachers in a Williamson County School were suspended for using materials to supplement Wit and Wisdom. Mind you these weren’t materials that described a tree frog changing sexes or promoting the racial makeup of characters in Clint Eastwood movies. These were materials utilized for the sole purpose of augmenting children’s entry into Wit and Wisdom programming. Should be pretty uncontroversial, unless you have a deep-seated mistrust of teacher judgment.

Programs, like Wit and Wisdom, have plusses and minuses. Currently, MNPS 5th graders are exploring a beautiful novel. But almost all of them come with an assumption that all students are able to jump in at the same point, and that is incorrect.

That’s where teacher judgment becomes so important. Teachers are the ones that truly know the children, they are the ones that know kids as people. Unlike the data scientists who read test results, discipline files, and attendance records, and presume to know every child. Teachers are the ones best suited to utilize their training and experiences to take advantage of the strengths or overcome the weakness of all programs. And every program has a weakness, to dispute that is an exercise in pure hubris.

Talk about setting people up for failure, not only are you depriving a child of an enriched experience, but you are exposing teachers to the risk of poor evaluations. If you don’t allow teachers to use their teacher judgment and you are still conducting observations and evaluations, you are not evaluating the teacher, you are evaluating the program. Which from a business standpoint is desirable, because you can sell more programs while you can’t sell more teachers.

Education, like so much of our daily life, is centered on relationships. As a general rule, the deeper and more authentic the relationship the higher degree of success. That goes for education as well as policing, selling swimming pools, or building houses. Demanding that everyone follows the program with rote obedience is a certifiable recipe for disaster.

What’s even more alarming in the case of the WCS teachers, is that the principal was also suspended and was not permitted to inform their staff of the disciplinary action. Throwing the school into a chaotic atmosphere, just as the state standardized testing was beginning. Bet those scores will be impacted.

I laughed at a tweet I read the other day that wasn’t aimed at education policy. It argued that sentencing guidelines in America must be rooted in rehabilitation. That’s not how we do things in this country, here punishment is all about sending a message to those that might be considering breaking the rules. Nothing like suspending a principal to send a message of serious intent. You can rest assured that principals in WCS got the message, as did those in surrounding counties.

I suspect that all of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is coming down the pipeline. This summer, Tennesse elementary teachers who didn’t take the course last year, will be required to spend a week at TNTP’s knee learning the proper way to teach reading. This will happen despite the fact that TNTP has never taught kids to read, while the teachers in attendance have. TNTP’s sole contribution is in constructing half-assed research papers, though they do see the value in developing influential relationships. I know, the Commissioner’s husband is no longer employed by TNTP, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t left a money trail.

There is no way to increase student outcomes without putting a quality teacher in front of a kid. And there is no way to do that, without allowing the usage of teacher judgment. You cannot program and automate your way to success.

Ironically today kicks off teacher appreciation week. Sure, the candies and flowers, J Crew gift cards, are all nice. But you know what would really demonstrate appreciation? If we all sat down with a teacher, and asked, “What do you think we should do?” You don’t have to agree with every teacher you meet, but you really should listen to every teacher you meet. Inherently they all have something valuable to offer.

QUICK HITS

Tomorrow marks the end of the primary season for Nashville School Board races. In looking at the candidates, I feel a certain need to offer my opinion, but then I realize, it doesn’t really matter. For example, in District 4, if John Little defeats Berthena Nabaa-McKinney, what’s the real significance? So John’s a little more open to charter schools, But unless someone is willing to demand more from the superintendent and actually hold her and her team accountable, who cares? Banning charter schools is not a miracle cure for improving schools. That can only be accomplished by focusing on the teachers and students in our traditional schools.

The MNPS school board is made up of 9 individuals unless you can find four others who are willing to act in accordance with you, your role is muted. That’s reality. So by all means, go to the polls and vote for the candidate that makes you feel good, But don’t stop there, demand that whoever wins, do their job. A job that includes managing the one employee they are responsible for. Both names at the bottom of an employment contract should mean something, and in Nashville, that’s currently not true. The system only works when those responsible for the system work.

Teacher Mary Holden is a long-time family friend and a quality teacher, whose child attends school with my children. This week was not a pleasant one. A loaded gun was found on an 8th-grade student. Holden does a good job of outlining the fear, and the sadness felt by all. In closing, Holden is addressing her feeling about the gun incident, but in doing so she voices the feelings of so many current teachers,

Like I said, these aren’t simple reasons. If any of this were simple, it would be very easy for me to decide what to do. But it’s not. I love teaching. I love building relationships with students and seeing their growth over the year. I love the rhythm of the school year. So when it comes to next year and what I want to do, I’m having difficulty figuring it out. And this week didn’t help.

Tennessee’s standardized testing, TNReady finished this past week. Commissioner Schwinn has promised results will be available by mid-June at the latest. But why wait when I can already give you the headline? Mark it down, in two weeks, we’ll be hearing about how far we have to go, but thanks to the new programs, how far we’ve come. We’ll hear about staying the course and doubling investment. We’ll hear about how all the hard work is paying off, but we can’t quit now. Trust me, even as the scores are being calculated, the press releases are being written.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. I am offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated. Not begging, just saying.



Categories: Education

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