teacher appreciation

Want educational equity? Make sure your teachers feel valued, say lawmakers

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Memphis teacher Tanya Hill encourages a student at Kate Bond Elementary School.

Conversations about education equity often focus on ways to ensure that all students have equal access when it comes to resources and quality instruction.

But this week in Nashville, state lawmakers suggested another priority for advocates of education equity: making teachers feel valued.

“Unless we’re careful, we’re going to drive some people who want to be teachers to other careers,” said Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville during a Wednesday panel discussion organized by the year-old Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition.

Research shows that teachers have more influence on student learning than any other in-school factor. And making sure that high-poverty, high-minority schools have effective teachers in the classroom is a big challenge. Tennessee’s current distribution of highly effective teachers favors the state’s highest-achieving students, rather than its lowest-achieving ones, according to a 2016 report by the State Department of Education.

In an effort to raise the bar on the quality of instruction in all of the state’s classrooms, Tennessee instituted teacher evaluations and introduced rigorous academic standards under the state’s 2010 First to the Top initiative.

But Rep. Mark White of Memphis talked about the downside of the state’s sweeping K-12 overhaul. The fast pace of the changes, especially around standards and assessments, has fallen on the shoulders of the state’s teachers.

“It’s been very hard on teachers,” said White, a Republican and former chairman of the House Education Committee. “God bless our teachers; they are working hard.”

Rep. Harold Love said the tone of conversation around school quality in recent years has often been at the expense of discussions about teacher pay and job security.

“We made it almost a crime for teachers to be concerned about their longevity and their pay and their benefits,” said the Nashville Democrat. “We’ve got to get back to a place where you can have good teachers be appreciated … and have them believe really that this is a career from which they would one day want to retire.”

Panelists agreed that strong teachers are a necessary ingredient to quality schools, and said the state must do more to make teaching an attractive profession, with higher pay and greater job stability.

Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed increasing state funding for teacher salaries for a third straight year, though it’s not clear how teachers would be impacted.

Tennessee also is working closely with colleges and teacher training organizations to improve the quality of the state’s teacher preparation programs.

awarding leaders

Meet the nine finalists for Tennessee Principal of the Year

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: Docia Generette-Walker receives Tennessee's 2016 principal of the year honor from Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Generette-Walker leads Middle College High School in Memphis. This year's winner will be announced in October.

Nine school leaders are up for an annual statewide award, including one principal from Memphis.

Tracie Thomas, a principal at White Station Elementary School, represents schools in Shelby County on the state’s list of finalists. Last year, Principal Docia Generette-Walker of Middle College High School in Memphis received the honor.

Building better principals has been a recent focus for Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen as roles of the school leaders change under school improvement efforts.

“Successful schools begin with great leaders, and these nine finalists represent some of the best in our state,” McQueen said. “The Principal of the Year finalists have each proven what is possible when school leaders hold students and educators to high expectations.”

The winner will be announced at the state department’s annual banquet in October, where the winner of Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year will also be announced.

The finalists are:

West Tennessee

  • Tracie Thomas, White Station Elementary, Shelby County Schools
  • Stephanie Coffman, South Haven Elementary, Henderson County School District
  • Linda DeBerry, Dyersburg City Primary School, Dyersburg City Schools

Middle Tennessee

  • Kenneth “Cam” MacLean, Portland West Middle School, Sumner County Schools
  • John Bush, Marshall County High School, Marshall County Schools
  • Donnie Holman, Rickman Elementary School, Overton County Schools

East Tennessee

  • Robin Copp, Ooltewah High School, Hamilton County Schools
  • Jeff Harshbarger, Norris Middle School, Anderson County Schools
  • Carol McGill, Fairmont Elementary School, Johnson City Schools

you better work

Hickenlooper, on national TV, calls for bipartisanship on job training for high school graduates

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Gov. John Hickenlooper spoke to reporters on the eve of the 2017 General Assembly.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday said Republicans and Democrats should work together to rethink how states are preparing high school graduates for the 21st century economy.

“It’s not a Republican or Democratic issue to say we want better jobs for our kids, or we want to make sure they’re trained for the new generation of jobs that are coming or beginning to appear,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, appeared on the Sunday public affairs program alongside Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to discuss their work on healthcare.

The Colorado governor brought up workforce training after moderator John Dickerson asked what issues besides healthcare both parties should be addressing.

“Two-thirds of our kids are never going to have a four-year college degree, and we really haven’t been able to prepare them to involve them in the economy where the new generations of jobs require some technical capability,” Hickenlooper said. “We need to look at apprenticeships. We need to look at all kinds of internships.”

Hickenlooper has long supported a variety of education reform policies including charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. Last fall he backed a new program that is expected to this year connect 250 Colorado high school students with paid job training.

Watch Hickenlooper and Kasich here. Hickenlooper’s remarks on job training begin right before the 11- minute mark.