Teachers voice concerns to state lawmakers

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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.
Read more from:
Bill Haslam, Bill Ketron, Education, General Assembly, Jim Tracy, Joe Carr, Mike Sparks, Politics, Rick Womick, Rutherford County, TEA, Tennessee
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Members Opinions:
February 05, 2012 at 4:50pm
I agree that the evaluations are time consuming and cause stress among colleagues. My mother has been a teacher for 26 years in the Maury County school system. She and her colleagues have been extremely stressed out this past year. They are all staying over later to “perfect” their rooms, prepare in depth lesson plans, etc. It’s ridiculous that she is going in early in the mornings and staying late. The principals are extremely hard on the teachers in my opinion. My mother said that she has to state objectives to her children before the lesson has started. She teaches first grade. I think it’s a waste of breath to explain all of that to a 6-year-old. I could understand a little bit more with high school and middle school. Elementary teachers shouldn’t be put on the same stipulations as the high school and middle school teachers. I think that education is one of the most important jobs to be involved in. Teachers are not paid anything near what they ought to be paid in my opinion. The average teacher salary is $42,537 in the state of Tennessee according to http://www.teacherportal.com/salary/Tennessee-teacher-salary. People who have two- year degrees or technical degrees are making more money than teachers with master’s degrees. I think that the evaluations were a good idea in theory. It’s definitely a good way to “weed” out the bad teachers. Over all though the good teachers that are doing their job are suffering the consequences.
February 08, 2012 at 6:31pm
High kudos to Post writer Marie Kemph and Murfreesboro educator Elena Burgress for addressing the problems that have arisen as a result of state legislation that requires Tennessee's secondary school teachers to be evaluated x-number of times per year, and paid according to their cumlative evaluations . . all part of the "Tennessee First to the Top 2010" bill, which is part of the nationwide "Race to the Top" program (what catchy titles) . . . and, of greater signigicance, I wager, a 500 million dollar federal grant to the state of Tennessee.

Resultant of this "Tennesssee First to the Top 2010" - as I understand it - tenured teachers are evaluated 4 times per year, and non-tenured teachers are evaluated 6 times per year. Well, if my numbers are correct, it would appear that, at least, several well-paying jobs have been created just to process the paperwork involved.

And just "who" is evaluating "whom"? I suppose it would have a louder ring if I asked: Who's evaluating the the ones doing evaluating?! If Tennessee eductators are to be evalauated 4-6 time per year, what next, 10-12 times per year?! I mean, that certainly would speed up the process and help Tennessee be the "First to the Top" . . . or, possibly, the first to TUMBLE head-over-heel downward.(?)

It looms obvious that this intrusive, over-bearing measure of Tennessee secondary educators being evaluated 4-6 times per year, at least, is good for one thing: mixing in an amalgamative cocktail of bitterness-resentment-distrust-apprehension-disloyalty with what already is a challenegd education system, and further diluting its potency.

However, here's what I find most disturbing and frustrating: Granted, there are some young, freshman-sophomoric state/TN legislators who do not know any better, and will agree with, and sign off on, anything just to establish themselves. But what about those senior legislators in their 50s-60s, who have held legislative positions for 15-25 years? Why hasn't someone is the "senior" category stepped up, planted down a foot, and loudly announced, "No, we can't have tbis kind of non-sensical, destructive legislation in Tennessee!"

I must say that I'm higly disappointed in Tennessee politics. It appears, sadly enough, that good, common-sense legislation -in regard to the collective well-being of Tennessee residents, particularly students and teachers - has been tossed to the wayside in favor of self-serving factors of job security and climbing to an even a highger rung on the Political Ladder.

Either that, or there needs to be an intervention on state legislators conducted by the Middle Tennessee State Mental Health Institution . . . excuse me, there is no money left in the budget for that!

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