Peter Tang leads SCORE’s Tennessee Educator Fellowship, a program that helps elevate teacher voice in Tennessee. This program’s impact is far-reaching, as teachers from across the state learn tools to impact and continue to influence policy conversation. This year, the program is expanding, almost doubling in size. In this Q&A for The SCORE Sheet, Peter describes the fellowship, what it has accomplished, and where it is headed.
Q: What type of teachers are chosen for the Tennessee Educator Fellowship?
A: The Tennessee Educator Fellows have a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. The fellows have diverse classroom experiences in terms of subjects taught (math, English language arts, science, social studies, music, ROTC, special education, and foreign language, to name a few), years of experiences, and school district (urban, rural and suburban). They are parents, second-career-teachers, and community leaders. They represent many districts across the state with fellows from all areas of Tennessee – East, Middle, and West. Within this group of stellar educators for the 2016-17 cohort, we have a county commissioner, a former engineer, and a Tennessee Teacher of the Year.
Q: The 2015-16 Fellowship just ended. What skills did these teachers learn over the course of the year?
A: Fellows learned about Tennessee’s steady progress toward improving student outcomes and the policies that helped our students to be the fastest improving in the nation. They met with policymakers to learn about how education policies are made and how those policies translate into their work with students. They learned how to communicate their classroom experiences effectively, how to network with educators and policymakers to make an impact, and how to take a thoughtful approach to advocating for their students.
Q: How are these teachers using the skills they’ve learned during their fellowship?
A: They convened teachers to discuss how they can partner with businesses and their local communities to support student learning. They wrote opinion pieces in support of annual assessments aligned to rigorous standards and that provide useful information to parents and educators. They delivered presentations in front of parents, educators, and other community stakeholders about the need to maintain high expectations of all students regardless of income or zip code.
Q: What will this upcoming year will be like for the 2016-17 fellows? What things are similar to past cohorts? What things are different?
A: With nearly double the number of fellows, there are now more opportunities for fellows to engage at a regional level in addition to the convenings across the state. By engaging regionally, we get to support collaboration between fellows in this and past cohorts while also minimizing the impact on classroom time. I am excited that fellows will have more opportunities to learn from each other and discuss the priorities that will most help Tennessee students.
Q: What is the selection process for the fellowship and what does it indicate about Tennessee teachers?
A: Teachers across the state want opportunities to make an impact outside of the classroom while continuing their crucial work leading classrooms. The nearly 450 applications received for the 2016-17 Tennessee Educator Fellowship reflects that desire and should encourage more partners to engage more Tennessee teachers.
The fellows were selected by a team that includes SCORE team members who have been teachers and alumni of the fellowship. We are looking for teachers with a desire to have an impact within and beyond the classroom and a committed focus on policies and practices driven by what is best for students and their academic growth.
Q: Why is this work so important to Tennessee education?
A: Our progress in improving student outcomes is the result of many stakeholders across the state—parents, teachers, policymakers, and community organizations—collaborating to create student-focused solutions. However, Tennessee has more work ahead to ensure all students get the educational opportunities they deserve.
Teachers are uniquely positioned to inform and lead on this work through their classroom experiences. As SCORE’s Executive Chairman and CEO Jamie Woodson has said, “Tennessee needs the insight of teachers on how best to sustain and accelerate student success.” Teachers have invaluable experiences and insights that can help policymakers and communities make decisions that are in the interest of students, creating a feedback cycle that is crucial to managing complexity and change in the longer term. Tennessee needs to close the persistent achievement gap and move into the top half of states in terms of academic achievement, and the work of the Tennessee Educator Fellows and alumni is a key part of making that happen.