[these stories] wit them. We still shared materials. If one of us came out with a good idea, we shared with the other ones. We always planned that way.”
This changed with the addition of mandatory Professional Learning Community (PLC) and Grade Level meetings every week, taking away two days of class planning. Hopson and her fellow teachers were losing the time they needed to plan for their students. Instead, it was all about data, which was important but there were problems.
“If our data didn’t look good, [the administrators] would say, ‘Well, what do you need to do?’ We would say that we needed to slow down. [The kids] aren’t getting it.”
Hopson was constantly told they couldn’t slow down because of pacing, deadlines, etc. This added to new evaluations, with at least 61 indicators, makes it harder to be a teacher. Veteran teachers feel like new teachers, and new teachers have a whole new reason to be overwhelmed.
Flash forward to January 2012. The new teacher evaluation system is about to be rolled out. Hopson and others are beginning to have their doubts about the new evaluation system’s large list of criteria and have written a list of concerns. At the January board meeting, Hopson spoke about the concerns being expressed. Hopson believes that by and large, the items on the rubric should be found in an effective classroom, but only if each criterion is taken on an individual basis instead of trying to use them all at once. When she spoke to the board, she brought up couple of the following criteria that she was concerned about: transitions and sharing of information not related to the topic. This is hard to judge with the age group she teaches.
“Have you taught seven year olds lately? You mention a dog, [and] they’re going to talk about their neighbor’s puppies.”
She worries how scoring people on transitions and unnecessary information may affect teachers who may have special circumstances in their classroom like she had at the time.
When she made her comments in January 2012, she had a student who had a very profound processing disorder. During transition times, he often came up to her to discuss something that had nothing to do with their lesson. Sometimes he could take a long time to finish his conversation. She was worried that if she had an observation going at that moment that she would be required to make a choice between telling the child to sit down and get a better score or taking time to talk to the child while redirecting him.
“I said in my address [that] I’m going to choose the child every time.”
She was not just concerned about teachers similar to her situation dealing with evaluations. She was also concerned about how the evaluations ranked teachers on activities and finishing the lesson plan. She looked at this from the perspective of a teacher and that of a parent. The example she gave was that of her son’s math teacher at the time, who had already been evaluated, getting several two’s in her activities section. The reason: she didn’t finish her lesson because she took the time to go back over a math concept the students were struggling with and failed to reach the higher order thinking activity.
As a parent, Hopson appreciated that the teacher took the time to make sure that the students understood the math problems before moving on. As a teacher, she worried what affect this one lesson and evaluation could have on the teacher’s career.
“If an outsider who did not know her and did not witness that lesson saw that score, they would think that she was a substandard teacher because she fell below [stated] expectations. That’s just not right. She did what she needed to do as a teacher and got marked down for it.”
Hopson worries about the stress level and morale of teachers in Knox County.
“It’s been awful how many teachers that I have talked to that if they had another opportunity tomorrow, they would take it in a heartbeat. They’re not people who are slackers, who don’t want to put in effort.”
Have changes have been made since January 2012? She laughed a little when I asked this. Yes, more has been added to accommodate Common Core. But…
“None of the issues I brought up were addressed. Nothing happened.”
The stress of the announced and unannounced observations, planning lessons that meet all the criteria (which can be difficult if you have multiple subjects or preps), and losing the time to plan is making it difficult to teach. How is the board viewed by some in the district? The superintendent is appointed, not elected, which has worried some. He has made some effort to have teacher forums, but Hopson believes that teachers’ concerns are not being listened to.
To read part II, please click here.