Collateral Damage from RttT
Let’s say you’ve had several student teachers over your career, some of them with the potential to be great teachers and some … maybe not so much. But you do the best you can with every one of them because you like working with young prospective teachers and you think you’ve got something to offer them. You also believe that part of your professional obligation is to work with the next generation of teachers. So you take your share of student teachers – maybe more than your share – and it’s always rewarding when they’re finally ready to solo for a few weeks.
But that was before your students’ test scores were part of your own personal evaluation, maybe even part of your merit pay program. So now, when your principal asks you to mentor another student teacher, you pause for a moment to think about it. You’ll lose time with your students. Oh, sure, at the beginning you’ll be there in the room watching the student teacher, so you can eventually re-teach any lessons that are not really ready for prime time. On the other hand, you do at some point have to allow the student teacher to teach by herself if only for a couple of weeks to see if she can manage a classroom without your being there. You’re sure it will be fine … but what if it isn’t? What if turning over your class to a beginner means your students miss more questions on the test this year? And let’s face it, working with a student teacher takes time away from your usual preparation. So should you still agree to take a student teacher?
In Tennessee some educators are saying no. Some are refusing to take student teachers to comply with new district policy. Williamson County, for example, has decided to prohibit student teachers from practicing in high school subjects that have state exams at the end of the year. The district also recommends that principals ban student teachers in grades 3-8 as well, or at least not allow them into the classroom until after standardized tests. The Tennessean reports that even in schools where student teachers are permitted by the district, principals and teachers are deciding not to accept them.
In Tennessee 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on test results. Teachers can lose tenure if they score
poorly two years in a row and can receive tenure only of they score at the top for two consecutive years. Schools of education in Tennessee are distressed over this turn of events, but for teachers, practicality trumps altruism and you can hardly blame them. The decision not to work with prospective teachers is, of course, short sighted, but you can’t blame classroom teachers for not taking the long view. Blame state legislators.
It’s collateral damage from Race to the Top. Tennessee teachers may be among the first to try to protect themselves, but they certainly won’t be the only ones. In the meantime, what happens to the preparation of future teachers, particularly when the trend has been towards greater practice time in the field before graduating? Maybe in a few years state legislatures will regret their knee-jerk reactions to improving classroom teaching and revert to more valid and realistic evaluation plans. Maybe they’ll discover that frontloading the system by improving teacher preparation is a better solution than draconian evaluations. Or maybe they’ll discover that state test results should be part of a teacher’s final evaluation -- but just a small part.