“And Paris! All afternoon in someone’s attic
We raised our glasses
And drank to the asses
Who ran the world and turned neurotic.”
If one looks for samples of irony, they really need to look no further than the fields of education policy. Because there it abounds in plentiful quantity. Often we criticize the very things we unintentionally espouse. Allow me to illuminate.
Over the last several years it has become a rite of the approaching start of the school season, for articles on teacher vacancies and the growing challenges districts face in staffing schools to appear. Like school supply shopping or final family vacations, the focus turns to teacher vacancies. Plenty of ink is spilled in documenting the increased difficulties in making sure every student has a qualified teacher and offering reassurances that there is no need for concern because the data shows this year is really no different than the previous years.
Nothing to see here, move along.
Luckily public memories, for the most part, are short, and it has been largely forgotten that last year was anything but optimal, with too many children losing valuable instructional time while principals scrambled to find bodies to throw in front of them. Data may show that the crisis isn’t quite as severe as advertised, but as I’ve said before if the data ever catches up to perception. it’ll take a decade to recover. Dismiss that at your own peril.
Before we go too far into this debate, it needs to be pointed out that this is a discussion held without accurate data. Teacher attrition, like virtually everything in education, has become a numbers game, and thus easily manipulated in order to convey the desired narrative. Seldom is it defined what constitutes a fully staffed district, it’s a number that changes annually. I would assume that in a district like MNPS, where they’ve lost over 4000 kids in 5 years, full staffing means fewer teachers than it did half a decade ago. But you know what they say about assumptions.
At any rate, having 250 openings when you need 6K teachers, is not the same as having 250 openings when you only require 5.5K. But we’ll pretend.
In a recent Tennessean article, MNPS reveals,
Nearly 550 Metro Nashville Public Schools teachers resigned by the end of the 2021-22 school year, new district data show, up from 464 resignations or terminations the year before.
Here’s where words become important. The number is based on the number of teachers that have resigned by “the end of the 2021-22 school year,” how is that defined? Is that by the end of May? Or the end of the fiscal school year which ended on June 30th? It likely does not include summer resignations, of which I am aware of at least 3.
At Oliver, we were told that the 31 teacher departures were largely due to “promotions”? How do promotions, internal and external, factor into the numbers?
Also not included are transfers, though I have long argued the importance of those numbers. A transfer is usually an early indicator of job dissatisfaction. To their credit, teachers are eternal optimists. they often figure that greener pastures lie within the district. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always prove to be the case and the transfer becomes a harbinger of a departure. What do district transfer numbers look like?
Those are just a couple of examples of important considerations that are missing from the ongoing staffing conversation.
While teacher attrition is a multi-layered issue – involving salaries, work/life balance, expectations, and training – the inescapable elephant in the room remains the general perception of the profession held by policymakers, This is where our good friend irony comes to play.
Over the last month, Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee has been besieged by public outrage over comments made by Hillsdale College’s Larry Arnn toward teachers, while Lee sat by and failed to raise objections. The gist of Arnn’s comments was that teachers are nothing particularly special and that most anyone could do the job. While certainly misguided and devoid of a grasp of reality, what is different between those comments, and MNPS’s executive director of hiring and recruitment Amber Tyus in response to a question about teacher openings telling WPLN,
“We hope that by the start of school, we are nowhere near that number, but that is not anything that alarms us because we are a large urban district.”
Not alarmed! You lose 500 teachers consistently, and it’s nothing to be concerned about?!?
Let’s forget about the numbers for a minute, surely Tyus doesn’t believe that all 500 plus of those teachers who’ve left over the past several years are of the same quality. But that is what she seems to imply. That none of the teachers who left level 4 or 5 teachers, and that district should easily be able to procure the services of a teacher of equitable quality, because after all, a teacher is a teacher, is a teacher.
The position of the district seems to be that it has things like tutoring, summer school, interventions, and curriculum, to mitigate any slip in teacher quality. All you have to do is get a body. I mean, that’s what they are out promoting.
As a side note, not that they are asking, but if anybody does, the reason test results rebounded has little to do with the programs we purchased, and everything with the people we undervalue – teachers and principals who worked their asses off.
On occasion, data is provided that details the years of experience of those teachers quitting, But you never see the state rating of teachers departing. 10% could be level 5’s, or 90% could be, but we don’t know, because we don’t care.
We can hold a job fest in July, a month before school starts, with the expectation of hiring comparable educators. Right?
Do you doubt that? Look at the strategy being put forth unabashedly by MNPS,
The district is also temporarily “hiring non-licensed candidates who are working toward completing their licensure” to teach in certain subjects. It’s also developed a backup plan that includes placing permanent substitute teachers in classrooms, if needed, at the start of the school year.
So let me see if I understand this, the teacher who changed the trajectory of my daughter’s life and opened her eyes to a world of new possibilities, who left because of a lack of support from the support hub, can be replaced by “temporarily “hiring non-licensed candidates who are working toward completing their licensure”?
The talented young educator that left, who literally saved my son’s 6th-grade year by helping him navigate a difficult age and thus set him up for future success, can be replaced by a permanent substitute teacher?
How are these comments any less offensive than Larry Arnn saying, “Here’s a key thing we are going to try to do. We’re going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child. Because basically anybody can do it.”?
Isn’t that exactly the unstated goal of MNPS’s hiring practices and approach to teacher attrition?
Tell me where there is recognition of the fact that teaching is an art as well as a skill.
Tell me where years of experience are recognized, let alone valued.
Tell me where it is recognized that without a high-quality teacher MNPS could take the millions they spend on programming out to the parking lot at Bransford, set it on fire, and get the same results.
Tell me where there is a differentiation between a teacher that has invested years and tears in developing their craft with that of a well-intention newcomer.
Until that culture is changed, large numbers of openings will continue to plague the city’s education system. It’s not accidental that teachers leaving the profession are occurring as enrollment in teacher prep programs is declining. Tyus might not be concerned, but bodies are going to get harder and harder to find.
Why do you think there is a sudden desire to increase tutoring corps and the ranks of permanent substitutes?
Channel 5 covered this past weekend’s MNPS job fair where Tyus offered a glimpse into MNPS hiring priorities,
Tyus said the district also plans to fully staff a permanent substitute program so that schools have a full bench of subs in case all licensed teacher positions aren’t filled.
WHAT?!? I’m assuming that HR holds staff meetings, does nobody in these meetings say, “We can’t find enough damn teachers, how do we expect to find enough tutors and permanent subs?”
Or better yet, “Why is it that we need so many permanent subs?”
Perhaps some of that money invested in securing teacher alternatives could be siphoned off for use in recruiting and developing principals that are capable of delivering support to teachers and families. At the very least MNPS needs to invest in support staff and HR management that have actual tenure working as principals in schools, not just law degrees and leadership roles in non-traditional settings.
I know it’s not cool to say anymore, but experience matters. Experience is what brings context, and without understanding context, knowledge is diminished.
Quality leadership attracts quality soldiers. If you want a better team, be a better leader. It’s pretty simple.
Instead, high-quality teachers are left to depart and we shrug when vacancy rates continue to grow. At least we shrug until it’s our kids that are affected.
Then we don’t just shrug. We begin to search. We search for places that are fully staffed with high-quality teachers and we go there.
But hey, the board of education denied three more charter school applications this past week, so we are winning the war. At least that’s what we tell ourselves in an effort to avoid dealing with reality. The problem is, that only works for a limited time. Eventually, reality comes crashing through the door and that’s always painful.
Changes are afoot for MIPS middle school sports. While details remain minimal, plans are that Nashville’s schools will join TMSSA. The move should provide greater opportunities for the city’s student-athletes, including a chance to compete in state championships. With increased opportunity comes increased cost to individual schools. Expect more details in the coming weeks.
At last week’s parent meeting at Oliver Middle School, a central office administrator argued with me that the school had lost 200 students and that if parents didn’t stop agitating, it would lose more students and more teachers. I think somebody needs to remind central office folks that fewer students and fewer teachers also mean less 6-figure salaries for central office bureaucrats. Listening to parents and at least pretending to care, might be in their own self-interest. I know the jobs feel like lifelong appointments, but they ain’t.
While I increasingly maintain that the MNPS school board is a toothless beast on a fast track to extinction, despite the best efforts by some, there is an election for seats currently underway. The Nashville Scene offers a fair assessment of who’s in the race.
Former Nashville Chief of Schools Shawn Joseph has taken his tent revival show international. Apparently no longer content to just cash checks from US institutions, he’s now drawing compensation from South Koreans. I guess that’s one way to get front-row seats to BTS and Stray Kids.
We’ve been watching the career of Dr. Ryan Jackson unfold since the days of him playing Robin to Maplewood principal Ron Woodard’s Batman. He’s found success at every stop and we want to congratulate him on his latest venture. Jackson will be starting a new position as Executive Director of Leadership and Business Development at Kids on Stage of Maury County, TN! Big things ahead.
I bet you are shocked to discover that those groups that championed the Governor’s rewrite of the state’s school funding formula are releasing anti-voucher statements. Maybe it’s finally dawning on them that when the Governor advertises the money following the student, he doesn’t mean inside the public school system. Maybe Commissioner Schwinn will have room for them on the next flight to D.C. on her self-promotion tour. Or maybe not because they’ve already helped with the heavy lifting.
Former MNPS School Board member and lifelong educator Jill Speering has written a memoir that is garnering accolades from everywhere, This month TNEd Report’s Andy Spears sits down with her and chats about the book. Great interview and a great book.
Governor Lee may be maintaining a stiff upper lip, but Hillsdale’s CEO Larry Arnn is offering more context on his controversial words with an editorial in The Tennessean. While I still stand in opposition to most everything Arnn stands for, and most of his argument consists of familiar rhetoric, he does raise a fair point,
Indeed, it’s because of their opposition to school choice and parental rights that the Tennessee Education Association has called on Governor Lee to “sever ties” with Hillsdale College and “limit the power of the state charter commission.” Yet, the TEA’s true allegiance is revealed by the fact that parents aren’t mentioned a single time in either the TEA’s “Fire Hillsdale” letter or in the “Mission and Vision” section of the TEA’s webpage.
Parents shouldn’t be an afterthought, but too many who work to influence public education policy are guilty of that sin.
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