Tennessee Teachers’ Voices Count

by Julia Grecol, math teacher in Kingsport City Schools

This summer, thousands of teachers across Tennessee spent time together exploring our math standards and learning about materials than can support their instruction. As a facilitator, opportunities to share my voice and engage in work at this level always help me improve my own practice as I work with other teachers to support theirs.

For example, one of my favorite parts of this work was delving into a new and very valuable resource that the state is providing our Tennessee math teachers. The Instructional Focus Documents provide teachers with a deeper understanding of our state standards and how students may progress through them. They give us an idea of where our students are coming from, where they are going after they leave our class and give us a clearer picture of how deep we need to dive into each standard with our students. They also provide a description of what a student who is performing at each of four levels looks like for any particular standard with ideas for supporting our students to move to a higher level. If you haven’t had a chance to look at these, go to the math standards page on the TDOE website and check them out!

As a high school math teacher in Kingsport City Schools, I have participated in numerous opportunities to share my content knowledge at the state level, from test item review and test item writing to standards setting (which determines the cut score for the tests) and facilitating summer training. It’s exciting when you see items you wrote show up in test item review and see firsthand that teachers in Tennessee have significant input on standards, assessments, and statewide training.

Every time I’ve participated in one of these opportunities, I come away not only with a better understanding of the state standards, but with new ideas for my own classroom. I gain a deeper understanding of what I am supposed to teach, both in content and in process. I learn how to better assess my students’ understanding. I hone my ability to reflect on a particular lesson or assessment, thinking specifically about the math learning goals and performance goals. And I learn that, when I truly identify where my students are, I can plan for instruction that takes them further, no matter where they are in their learning. I’m able to learn and grow, and support others as they do the same, because of both the quality of the work and support and the rich discussions that always occur between teachers from different backgrounds and with different experiences. As a bonus, I have met many colleagues from across the state that I now call my friends.

Whenever I’ve engaged with this type of work, I’m always recharged and motivated for what’s ahead in my classroom, and I encourage teachers to apply to serve on a work group or attend a state training when you hear about those opportunities. You’ll improve your own craft, support teachers around you, and learn that your voice counts!