There has been an emphasis in recent days on the loss of experienced teachers in Tennessee classrooms. Make no mistake, every time a classroom teacher walks out the school door never to return, students lose not only knowledge and familiarity with a school or community, they also lose the know-how of a veteran educator.
Ongoing speculation to why this trend is occurring is as different as one’s view on the weather. One thing is for certain, you don’t buy quality on the cheap and that includes training, hiring and replacing educators. So it is imperative to the state that the local school districts maintain quality instructors. Ask any business leader and they will confirm that the quality of education, in large part, is what keeps individuals or businesses in a community. And both connect the quality of life often by the quality of the schools.
Research tells us the number one indicator for student success is the classroom teacher.
We also know that American teachers generally spent more time instructing students and less time in professional learning opportunities with their peers than those in top-performing countries. This has to change. School districts must pay attention to the issues of talent supply and demand, as well as be prepared for the challenge of preparing the next generation of skilled educators. That is why our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, spends so much of our time and resources providing educators with professional learning that enhances their competence, confidence and leadership skills, leading to higher academic achievement for students.
School districts may want to look at how to implement more effective mentoring programs for educators, utilizing retired educators. The key to helping teachers entering the classroom for the first time is by providing each teacher with an effective mentor. The key to keeping effective teachers in the classroom is by not only providing enough personal planning time, but also providing mandatory planning time with peers (Professional Learning Communities). And it is clear that there needs to be better dialogue in the state between school districts and the colleges and universities training our teachers, as well as the associations who represent them. We need to unite around the strategies to ensure the future success of all Tennessee students. We must discuss what’s working in professional development and in what areas we can improve.
In Tennessee, where we embrace local control of public education, we have to recognize keeping excellence in our classrooms is a key to remaining competitive in a 21st century global economy. We must explore meaningful solutions to Tennessee’s greatest education challenges, and policymakers and stakeholders must engage in the necessary discussion of teacher development, recruitment and retention. The policy decisions that our state is making will influence generations to come. We must make the best decisions possible, investing in our talent pipeline to secure a bright future for Tennessee.
Bethany Bowman is director of Professional Development for Professional Educators of Tennessee. Her background includes serving on the staff of the Florida Department of Education Bureau of Educator Certification and a former public school teacher.