Posts filed under: I Teach I Am
As of mid-November, Memphis City Schools (MCS) has successfully completed over 6,500 teacher observations for the 2011-12 school year, having trained and certified 615 administrators to help accomplish this tall task. This is a tremendous feat for our schools, not only because we have introduced a new teacher-designed observation rubric (the TEM Teaching & Learning Framework) to our instructional staff, but because we have implemented an observation system that is drastically different from anything MCS has ever experienced.
For the past decade, teachers were only required to be observed once every one to five school years (depending on whether or not a teacher had tenure), and principals kept paper records of these observations that were frequently lost or disorganized and next to impossible to explore from a district perspective. Many in the field would tell you this minimalist approach to observations emphasized compliance with state regulations more than a commitment to improving instructional practices.
These days, all teachers are observed a minimum of four times each school year, and observers have been trained to record their observation notes and scores on handheld devices such as iPads. The result? For the first time ever, our district has extensive real-time observation data for all teachers, schools and observers that we can analyze and respond to throughout the year. The implications for teacher support, observer training, and, most importantly, student outcomes are huge. At the onset, here are four things we are already learning from TEM teacher observations:
On a recent school night, a group of teachers from the Memphis City Schools gathered for a screening of "American Teacher." The documentary follows four educators who work twelve-hour days to support their students and three jobs to support their families.
The teachers in the room know what that’s like; those are our stories too. One of us has been teaching in the Memphis City Schools for nine years and has never not worked at least one other job—teaching part-time time at the university, consulting, and until becoming a parent, a further twenty hours or more each week at Macy’s. These experiences are more common than not.
Teachers have long contended that we’re undervalued for our work; even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan agrees that compensation reform is needed. But a controversial new study by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation argues that teachers are actually overcompensated. The authors assert that when fringe benefits and job security are taken into account, teachers make about 52% more than intellectually comparable workers in other fields (using scores on standardized tests like the SAT as measures of cognitive ability).
One of the great reasons to have a TEI blog is to help connect MCS (and other) educators to important resources. Sometimes, those resources are the voices of community leaders like Elliott Perry, who blogged last about the status quo in public education not being acceptable any more or TEI leaders like Jessica Lotz, who described the need for 50,000 more college-prepared citizens to bring Shelby County up to the national average of residents with college degrees. Sometimes this blog will literally point you toward other web resources. And today is one of those times.
On Thursday of this last week, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) launched a new website that every teacher, principal, instructional facilitator, school counselor, district administrator --- okay, anybody remotely associated with the new teacher and principal evaluation requirement in Tennessee --- should visit. That website is http://www.team-tn.org/educator-resourceshttp://www.team-tn.org/educator-resources
In some ways, we have allowed our education system in some ways to sink to a bottomless pit of status quo primarily at the expense of the underserved. As a result, too many children – most in fact, have not been able to inhale the fresh air of the best schools or allow their mental buckets to sink deep into the wells of knowledge.
Over the past 50 years (and maybe longer), we have allowed our education system to persist in mediocrity. Why you ask? Because, we have been afraid to address the single most important asset to our students: teachers.
For years we have been in retreat, but I tell you it’s only through confrontation that we demand the best and most effective teachers in every classroom, and the best leaders in every school and not just a few. Then, and only then, will we be able to hold our students to those same standards of excellence. To convince them that education is not abstract, but indeed figurative; that it is not Intangible, but tangible; and that it is the vehicle that allows us all not just to create a better life for ourselves, but reinforce that such knowledge will be worth more than any other qualification they’ll ever earn.
Sure, we have some great teachers in our classrooms, but some is not enough because the viability of our nation’s student population is at stake.
To say we live in interesting times would be an understatement at Memphis City Schools (MCS) these days. As with all public schools across the state of Tennessee, our district has entered into a year of great challenges and enormous opportunities, all stemming from the increased expectations of teachers and students alike: more rigorous and frequent teacher evaluations, higher testing standards for students, and the introduction of a Common Core curricula that will raise the bar for students’ critical thinking and college/career-readiness skills in unprecedented ways.
Undoubtedly, these demands hold the weight of world to many educators—teachers and administrators alike—in our district and with good reason. Anyone who has watched Memphis morph from the industrial town of International Harvester and Firestone into the shipping, biotechnology and medical hub of today can see how the economic landscape has and will continue to shift over the decades to come. The implications for educational attainment are huge. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of job growth for positions requiring a post-secondary degree will double that of all other positions over the next ten years.
“The first step is to communicate via social media… and then we can start talking about using these new tools as a platform for education.” – Social Media Schools.com
The connection between learning and technology is nothing new. Public radio has been a source of education for citizens of the U.S. for decades (think NPR). The television significantly revolutionized the way American children learned in their early developmental years (Sesame Street anyone?). Texas Instruments’ graphing calculators greatly impacted the way math and science teachers taught important math-based lessons. Computers…well, computers do everything it seems.
If we’re using history as a gauge, it’s safe to say social media – the hot new technology development of the decade – will benefit American learning, too. In fact, there are plenty of educators and education-based institutions and organizations already realizing the benefits of going social.
Among them is Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey. Eric can be found on Twitter @NMHS_Principal. If you’re on Twitter (or join today) and begin following him, you’ll join the 13,000-plus others who’ve already done so. A sample of some of his recent Tweets show that he’s found some interesting education-focused blogs and he’s connected with fellow educators around the country to share technology tips.
In sharing why he has made Twitter such an important aspect of his education career, Sheninger said the social networking site was, “the most powerful learning tool that I’ve ever experienced in my education career."
Last month the National Education Association approved a policy statement on teacher evaluation that is a vital departure from its previous position. Highlighting the importance of teacher evaluations in ensuring teaching quality and student success, the NEA -- of which the Memphis Education Association is an affiliate -- called for thorough, consequential teacher evaluations and cracked open the door to measurements of teachers' impact on student learning.
Memphis City Schools is already well on its way. As new, more rigorous evaluation plans are negotiated across the country, districts would be wise to follow its lead. MCS is in…