Teachers expressed concerns and opinions on teacher evaluations, tenure, collaborative conferencing and other changes.
Many teachers from the Bradley County Education Association and the Cleveland Education Association were present. Teachers from the McMinn County, Etowah, Copper Basin and Polk County school systems also attended the meeting, hosted by the Tennessee Education Association.
Brooks said that collaborative conferencing, changes to tenure and retirement were not a part of the Race to the Top program. These legislative actions were not even being considered when the state applied for Race to the Top.
“It was never intended to be this huge dump truck of stuff being dumped on teachers,” Brooks said.
Teacher evaluations, however, were required to keep Race to the Top funding. Some teachers asked why the plan was not tested as a pilot program before being implemented statewide. Brooks explained the grant required that the evaluations would be implemented immediately. A committee was formed to put together the evaluations, but the General Assembly did not require the information to come back to them before being implemented by the state’s education department. This fact has teachers questioning why the Legislature did not review the final plan.
BCEA president Barbara Harrison and Bradley County teacher Michael Plumley said they had wanted to see teachers more involved in the initial process.
“(In) the initial legislation, all it said was that there would be yearly evaluations,” TEA representative Jim Jordan said.
Later Jordan said there were some unacceptable provisions, but it was too late if Tennessee was to keep the grant.
“The state board of education developed most of what you have a problem with,” Jordan said to the teachers.
Bell said he wanted the meeting to focus on, “Where do we go from here?”
“It’s here, and it isn’t going anywhere. What can we do to make it better?” Bell said.
Bradley Central High School teacher Jim Ludwig said evaluations need to be more subject specific. Other teachers said the evaluation goals need to be attainable.
Michelle Castleberry, co-president of the CEA, said the evaluations upset teachers, especially good teachers, because evaluation trainers presented fives (the highest score available) as unattainable.
“You would never do that to a student, but you have done that to us,” Castleberry said.
Bell and Brooks said the highest value possible was being received by some teachers. Brooks felt teachers and evaluators trained by different people were receiving different information.
Castleberry said the evaluations also expected an observer to see too many state standards being achieved in one lesson.
“You are never going to see all of that in one lesson,” she said.
Teachers present said they were not opposed to being evaluated, but said the current system is too subjective.
“We want evaluations, but they need to be fair,” Harrison said.
Josh Justice, a teacher at Ocoee Middle School, said a teacher at his school had been given low marks because that teacher was new and does not have experience, while a teacher from another district said a new teacher was given higher marks because the administration said a newer teacher cannot be expected to have the same skills as a more experienced teacher.
“I think the most important thing that I can say is, ‘I want to hear from you and I want to listen,’” Brooks said, “because it is important that we get a clear picture of what is going on.”
Brooks told the teachers the governor had already mentioned “tweaking” the evaluation system in light of feedback from teachers. Brooks said there have been many “unintended consequences” of the teacher evaluations.
Teachers and legislators agreed the evaluations have had a negative impact on the atmosphere in the schools.
The time-consuming evaluation process has also left school administrators with less time for discussion about performance with teachers. Some teachers said they had never even had the pre-conference with the administrator, which is required before the 50-minute evaluation.
Tenure and the loss of collective bargaining were also discussed.
“Tenure never really protected bad teachers. Bad principals and bad administrators protect bad teachers,” Ludwig said. “Tenure protected good teachers from bad administrators and we lost some of that (with the tenure legislation).”
Losing collective bargaining was another change teachers were not happy with.
“In my feedback it [the sentiment was], “We can do well without it,” Brooks said.
CEA has not used collective bargaining in the past. Many school systems drew out the collective bargaining process until they saw what the Legislature did. After collaborative conferences were signed into law, negotiations on contracts still in the works could not move forward.
Ironically, a bill that would have required school board members to have a college degree failed to be passed. Polk County teachers said they would have been in support of this legislation. Having board members who do not have degrees has a negative effect on the conferencing progress, according to Polk County teacher Elaine Phillips.
Other teacher concerns including wanting more parental involvement and teachers being a part of the state board of education were also discussed.
Castleberry and others encouraged the lawmakers to ask for feedback before further educational changes are made.