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Williamson County snubs student teaching

Reader Comment: I'm not who to feel sorrier for, the education majors who can't find student teaching positions or the current teachers who are under such stress from such a dysfunctional evaluation system?

I wonder how this will shake out when many good teachers leave the profession because of the current evaluation system and there aren't any in the pipeline because the couldn't get their training.

Reader Comment: As a teacher, I would be very reluctant to allow a student teacher in my classroom under the new evaluation system. While some student teachers are great, some are lousy. With my career and reputation on the line, I certainly wouldn't want to take that risk. Kudos to Williamson County for taking such a bold step. I wish my district would do the same!

Reader Comment:

Put a student teacher in my class and he will sit in a desk and watch as I teach my kids how to score well on TCAP...I'm a level 5 baby!!!!! Im not letting a noob come in and change what I do in my class withth kids that count toward MY evaluation.

Let's get this straight:

1) We are given classes of kids we teach, so we are being judged and compared to teachers throughout the state whose kids may or may not have the eseentials of life, caring families, or any regard for school what so ever.

2) IF you are a K-2 teacher or a teacher of a subject that is not tested on TCAP, you are judged on how well students do in reading and math on TCAP starting in the 3rd grade. Yes, PE, music, art, computer, Spanish teachers, etc. are all judged on math and reading scores even though they don't teach those subjects at all.

3) NOW, you want us to accept a person we have never met, who has never taught, into our classrooms to experiment on the students that we had no choice in taking and accept whatever this stranger ends up doing to said class and the test scores that go along with it....test scores that not only affect me and my evaluation but the evaluation of countless other in the school who are counting on high test scores for their evaluation.

The idea that ANYONE would think this is reasonable is insane.

Reader Comment
As a current student teacher in Metro, I find this decision from Williamson County a cop out! Please remember all you experienced teachers started out as âstudent teachers!â To say you don't have time to mentor a student teacher shows that you are not a reflective or professional practitioner, which is a part of the TAP rubric! My university has worked hard to train us on the TEAM evaluation, and my professors were able to attend the principal training this summer. We have been evaluated by our supervisors with the TAP rubric, and are learning the new evaluation system along with our CTs. The student teachers in my program have received more training on the new evaluation system than most teachers. We have been able to help them through this process and provide resources for them. Student teachers can be a valuable resource for schools. We have been trained on current practices and can provide new tools for the classroom. In my experience, I have found I have taught my cooperating teacher a lot more than sheâs taught me because sheâs been out of school for the past 15 years. The fact that school districts are willing to ban student teaching sends a message that you donât care about future educators going into the profession. It's sad and discouraging for someone working hard to become an effective educator! Please don't let this new evaluation hinder us, TN! We, as student teachers, are not intimidated and are willing to step up to the challenge!

by Julie Hubbard

Tennessee's new teacher evaluation system has hit an unexpected snag.

With teacher tenure and job retention riding on a top score, Williamson County is banning student teachers from working in core subjects in high school and suggesting individual principals not allow them in grades 3-8. Even though theyâre not under formal policies, other principals and teachers statewide who formerly volunteered to take student teachers are backing off, too.

They say they don't have time to mess with mentoring, or they fear the process could affect studentsâ test scores, college of education officials at Vanderbilt and Belmont universities said.

"It's nothing but the teacher evaluation system that's got them tied up in knots," said James Stamper, director of student teaching for Belmont University. "We all had to have somewhere to start."

Williamson County Schools can't risk interference for teachers when 35 percent of their evaluations are based on student learning gains on standardized tests, said spokeswoman Carol Birdsong. "It's your classroom, and you are being evaluated based on your students' performance."

Tennessee is among 33 states that made changes to their teacher evaluation systems in the past two years, a recent report from the National Council on Teacher Quality showed.

At the end of this school year, principals will compile assessments on every Tennessee teacher: 35 percent from learning gains, 15 percent from other student selected data and 50 percent from classroom observations. Teachers can lose tenure if they score in the two lowest ratings two consecutive years and can gain tenure only if they score in the top two ratings two consecutive years.

The driving force was the federal Race to the Top competition, which called for new ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness and tie it to personnel decisions. Tennessee and Delaware were first to win multimillion-dollar grants for school reform.

Four months into implementation, the new evaluations have been criticized by Tennessee educators and union groups as too time consuming. Tennessee -- with six observations for novice teachers -- has among the most required teacher observations, National Council on Teacher Quality Vice President Sandi Jacobs said.

National media -- most recently, the New York Times and Education Week -- have suggested that if there are evaluation problems in Tennessee stemming from speedy implementation, other states may hold back on updating their systems.

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said he's aware of the evaluation ripple effect on student teaching but doesn't want districts to ban student teachers.

"I've heard that some districts were increasingly reluctant, but I haven't heard of any districts not taking them altogether," Huffman said. "My message ... is Tennessee has great data. We should look at the data to see whether classrooms that have student teachers are doing the same, better or worse.

"My own hypothesis is that classrooms that have student teachers do as well or better ... when appropriately managed."

Huffman said teacher preparation programs should take that data to school districts to lobby for their help.

He said most states are only now designing teacher evaluation systems, and a recent state board change cut the number of observations back to five by merging two into one. He doesnât foresee the state backing off its evaluations or making wholesale changes.

"We are using a system that we think is far superior to the system in place before, and far superior to a system that most states are using, so I think it's a little silly to say we are going too quickly," he said.

'It's a huge problem'

Middle Tennessee State University student Starla Weatherell, who will get her master's in business education in May, is uncertain about where she'll student teach.

"It's a huge problem for me, when I live in Williamson County, to not be able to student teach where I want to work," she said."âRight now, they are telling us we may have to drive two hours."

Vanderbilt and Belmont university officials say the news about student teacher bans comes as theyâre being encouraged by national groups to provide more classroom time for education majors. The requirement in Tennessee is one semester.

Belmont, which places about 32 candidates each semester into Metro, Williamson, Wilson, Sumner and Cheatham county schools, is trying to downplay its emphasis that student teachers take over full lessons and do more "team teaching" with classroom teachers to ease any fear.

Vanderbilt University places about 130 students into Metro Nashville, and Williamson, Robertson and Sumner county schools each year, with the largest share in Williamson, said Marcy Singer-Gabella, professor of the practice of education at Vanderbilt.

Needed to graduate

Student teaching is a requirement for graduation in teacher education programs. For districts, it can be an extra set of hands to help busy teachers and provide a pool of future employees to recruit.

The teaching candidates work daily in schools, starting off by observing students, moving to one-on-one student help and then, by the middle of their placement, doing co-teaching and co-planning of lessons.

"We absolutely understand the stress that teachers are feeling -- we don't feel insulted, we just want to figure out ways that we can guarantee student teachers are an asset," Singer-Gabella said. "If we can't place student teachers in Williamson County, we have to go elsewhere -- we will look at other districts, and we will probably begin to look at charters"â

She said Vanderbilt places a few education majors in private schools, but the openings are few, and Vanderbilt's focus is to prepare public school teachers.

Rutherford and Wilson County school officials said they have no student teacher changes this school year. June Keel, assistant superintendent for human resources for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said sheâs discussed the issue, but itâs unlikely anything will change this year.

"There is so much riding on students' progress, I can understand the concern," Keel said. "For the teacher, it's a question of giving up that learning to student teachers."

— Julie Hubbard
The Tennessean





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