Future of Teaching

A peek inside how Memphis art teachers can show student growth

The big news at Shelby County Schools’ board meeting Monday — a vote on student placements once municipal districts spin off — took place inside an auditorium. But the documents plastered on the hallway walls were no less newsworthy.

The bulletin boards showed off artwork by students in the district and, in some cases, offered hints of how local art teachers are generating information that will factor into their annual ratings.

Like many states across the country, Tennessee has recently overhauled its teacher evaluation rules to incorporate student progress as a measure. But in an unusual move, the state is allowing teachers whose students don’t typically take pencil-and-paper tests, such as music and art teachers, to show the progress through portfolios of student work.

That arrangement was spurred by a group of Memphis arts teachers who were unhappy that they were being rated according to their students’ scores in math and reading. In a 2012 speech, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan highlighted the local teachers’ efforts to create a peer-review system for student portfolios that state education officials later spread statewide.

Now, arts teachers must collect examples of student growth throughout the year. The work posted by Christine Todd’s class at Snowden Elementary School offers one example of what that evidence might look like.

According to the class’s bulletin board at the district’s headquarters, Snowden first asked students to draw bicycles from memory. She then unveiled bicycles that had been covered by a sheet and used them as props for a lesson about shape and form. Then students drew bicycles again, using the observations they had made.

The first drafts and second drafts were paired together on the bulletin board, showing that students captured more details, drew more confidently, and better reflected the proportions of real bicycles at the end of the class than they had at the beginning.

“I have shown you their pretests and the pieces they created after instruction in the 50 minute class,” Todd wrote. “You can really see their growth, hooray!”

Todd’s explanation of the assignment also hints at how all classes are seen as opportunities for math and literacy instruction, a priority under the new Common Core standards. She wrote that students “were encouraged to measure the bicycles with their eyes” and draw meaning from other texts, including a photograph of a penny-farthing race and paintings by Taliah Lempert.

Top teacher

Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

Melissa Miller leads her students in a learning game at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Special School District in Williamson County. Miller is Tennessee's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.

A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.

Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.

In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”

Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.

You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.


Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at [email protected].