survey says

Tennessee teachers are still happier in their jobs. But here’s how they aren’t seeing eye-to-eye with their principals

PHOTO: Ruma Kumar/Chalkbeat
Allison Graybeal teaches her Algebra I class at Middle College High School in Memphis.

Tennessee teachers are more concerned than principals about discipline at their schools, according to a new survey that shows a similar disconnect over the amount of feedback that teachers get from their administrators.

About 69 percent of teachers surveyed say their schools effectively manage student behavioral problems, while 96 percent of administrators say their schools handle discipline just fine.

The discrepancy is one of many data points unveiled Tuesday by Tennessee’s annual educator survey, conducted jointly by the State Department of Education and Vanderbilt University. Now in its sixth year, the survey found again that teachers are generally happy with their jobs, increasingly satisfied with their evaluations, and still tired of tests. But it also suggests that not all educators agree on two major issues — discipline and teacher feedback.

The gaps in perception suggest that school administrators may not be aware of their teachers’ concerns on discipline. One teacher wrote: “Discipline in my school is very inconsistent and greatly depends on who the student is, not what the student has done.”

The findings come as high suspension rates for poor students and students of color are getting more national attention. They also indicate that Tennessee needs to start making discipline policies a bigger priority, says Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

“This points to specific areas where we need to take more concrete actions,” McQueen said during a conference call with reporters. She added that teachers are asking for more support to meet their students’ non-academic needs.

About half of the state’s 64,000 teachers took the survey, down slightly from last year. Some of the lowest response rates were from Tennessee’s two largest districts, Shelby County Schools in Memphis and Metro Nashville Public Schools, as well as the state-run Achievement School District.

On feedback, teachers reported that they aren’t getting the input from principals that they were promised. Administrators say they are.

Ninety-four percent of administrators report that teachers received feedback on their previous year’s evaluation, while only 58 percent of teachers say that they received such feedback.

Nate Schwartz, the department’s chief research and strategy officer, said administrators generally answered more positively than teachers on every question asked, which he described as expected and unconcerning.

The discrepancy on discipline is significant because Tennessee clearly has a discipline problem, Schwartz told members of the State Board of Education in July during a preview of the survey’s findings. He noted that two-thirds of the state’s African-American students are suspended between the sixth and ninth grades.

Schwartz noted Tuesday that the “roller-coaster” around TNReady, the state’s troubled standardized test, didn’t seem to affect teachers’ overall positive view of their working environment. The survey was conducted in late spring, about the time when the state canceled TNReady testing for most students following its failed online launch in February.

Eight in 10 teachers reported feeling positive about their working environment. However, only 17 percent of teachers thought the test’s practice tools were adequate for introducing students to content changes in the first-year assessment.

Chalkbeat reporter Grace Tatter contributed to this report.

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.