The Chalk Board, May 26, 2015

By Sally Absher

sallyabsher@knoxfocus.com

Another Take on the 2015 Teacher Survey Results. While most BOE members and the KCS administration are “thrilled” with the results of the teacher survey, some parents and teachers worry that there is an underlying, untold story.

There are two ways to create a dramatic shift in teacher satisfaction. One is to make significant changes restoring professionalism and autonomy in the classroom so that teachers feel valued and respected. The other is to micromanage and tie the hands of educational professionals until enough seasoned, experienced teachers resign or retire, and replace them with teachers fresh out of college who are more malleable and accepting of the education reform agenda.

A parent who has had students at West High School for the past seven years told Lauren Hopson, “I have seen the majority (nearly all) of veteran teachers leave. Using the information on teachers from the website, I calculated that over 60% of the teachers have less than five years of experience. I did this for Bearden High also and there it was more like 30%…. Even with the IB program they’re not trying to keep experienced teachers. They have high turnover among those teachers too. The moral of this story: they don’t want experienced teachers.”

Hopson, who was recently sworn in as the President of KCEA (and will begin in this role on July 1), said, “New teachers don’t have tenure, and the “reform” minded politicians have made it nearly impossible for them to get it AND keep it. No tenure= no due process rights= no way to speak out against inappropriate practices and advocate for students. None of the teachers who are active members of SPEAK would have been able to do what we have done without tenure. Many new teachers also don’t fully understand the importance of belonging to the teacher’s association which provides support for them also. I am a firm believer that so many administrators have gone silent about practices they find detrimental because they have given up their membership.”

The Knox County High School Teacher of the Year is leaving her position and going to Knoxville Catholic High School. The principal of Sequoyah Elementary announced she is leaving for a position at Grace Christian Academy. As a parent and former teacher said, “Private schools rely on a diversity of teaching styles to reach a diversity of students. There isn’t any logic behind standardizing teaching to the point Knox County is attempting.”

Knox County lost an incredible Special Education Teacher this year. In her resignation letter, Gloria Johnson said, “I have worked with the most amazing educators and administrators one could imagine, they are putting their heart and soul into helping kids every single day, they are trusting those in charge to require what is best for kids and plugging ahead though many question our direction. I know there are administrators who also question the direction, but are afraid to speak up, I understand their hesitancy, but we have to stand up for the kids.”

“I teach special education, I learned in college that a student with a 58 IQ has little likelihood of being on grade level, yet now I must teach him and evaluate him on grade level standards. This goes against everything I was taught; start where they are, find how they learn best, and progress from there. How can I possibly innovate when I am told to standardize?”

She continues, “I won’t teach data points, I teach children. I won’t teach 6th grade standards to a student who tests at the 1st grade level. I won’t give a 6th grade TCAP to a student who tests at a 1st grade level. I won’t give an Aimsweb test to every student on my caseload every two weeks. I won’t teach the same way as every other teacher in the building because some businessman at the Milken Family Foundation or Gates Foundation thinks it is a good idea. I won’t be a score on your 1-5 scale, and I won’t be your ‘human capital’.”

“I want our kids to be college and career ready, but I also want them to be emotionally and physically healthy, I want them to be good citizens, I want them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers, I want them to have the confidence to follow their dreams, I want them to have empathy and care about others, I want so much more for them. I want better for the students and teachers in Knox County, and I plan to work to that end.”

“I am leaving so that I can continue to fight for our kids, teachers, and public education. I wish I could stay, but I actually feel like we are doing harm in the case of some students, and at least neglectful in the case of many. One thing I know, everyone at every level is working hard at Knox County Schools, I am afraid we aren’t necessarily being directed to work smart.”

She speaks for many. How long will parents trust their children to an educational system where the best, brightest, most dedicated and most experienced teachers are leaving? A phrase attributed to the Hippocratic Oath (the phrase is believed to have actually originated with 19th century surgeon Thomas Inman), “First do no harm,” comes to mind. Many of our finest KCS teachers work under the same maxim. They have reached the point where they feel that to continue in the profession under the current leadership will inflict harm on the very children they serve.

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