Elena Burgess, a teacher at McFadden School of Excellence, explains why she believes the new evaluation system should be modified during a forum with legislators Feb. 2 at Blackman High School. (Photo by D. Gardenia)
Local educators harshly criticized recent changes to how teachers are evaluated and a proposal to modify pay structures during a two-hour forum Thursday, arguing the new procedures are too time-consuming and have created tension among colleagues.
“None of these bills encourage administrators, educators and parents – even lawmakers – to work as a team,” said Elena Burgess, a teacher at McFadden School of Excellence. “We have to work as a team, and that includes parents.”
More than 250 members of the Murfreesboro Education Association and Rutherford County Education Association attended the forum at Blackman High School to discuss education issues with all five state legislators who comprise the Rutherford County delegation in the Tennessee General Assembly.
The forum comes on the heels of the new evaluation system that was implemented as part of the Tennessee First to the Top Act 2010, which was passed in an effort to win a $500 million federal grant through the Race to the Top program.
“Last year was tough on teachers,” said Kelly Chastain, a teacher at Oakland High School “It has been said that blame goes all across the board. Right now, it feels as though blame only has to do with us, (and) this evaluation system was just another blow.”
Jackie Powell, a teacher at Smyrna Elementary School, said she disapproved of a proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam that would allow districts to opt out of the state-mandated salary scale, which is based on a teacher’s number of degrees and years of service, and introduce performance-based pay individualized to an area’s needs.
“I am a professional,” Powell said. “As a professional, I should be treated as such.”
Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy, who sits on the Education Committee in the General Assembly, said he has always believed teachers should be paid based on performance.
“We want the best teacher in the classroom,” Tracy said.
Although several teachers were visibly angry during the discussion, lawmakers and attendees agreed on one thing: The new evaluation process has created negative unintended consequences and should be reexamined.
“When we voted on First to the Top, everyone agreed on the legislation,” Republican state Rep. Rick Womick said. “The problems involving teacher evaluations arose during the implementation process. The subjectivity of the evaluation system does not provide consistent results.”
Republican state Rep. Joe Carr said the changes have had a negative effect on teacher moral.
“It has created a lot of fear,” Carr said, “and I think that some of that responsibility for a lot of that fear rests with the General Assembly because we did not do an effective job of communicating the state’s expectations.”
He said although the Haslam administration and legislators included educators from across the state as part of the evaluation process overhaul, officials failed to properly inform teachers of their intentions and how the program would be implemented.
“We created this adversarial relationship that was unnecessary to the change that we all believe is required to get us off the bottom, and that is truly unfortunate,” Carr said.
However, he said teachers should also understand “we all want the same thing.”
“We want to improve education in the state,” he said.