Across Texas, educators and administrators are learning a new way to dance together. It’s called the T-TESS, or the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System. Educators have responded in a variety of ways over the past few months, but it would be fair to say that a prevailing sense of fear, concern, and even dread has dominated most of the conversations I have been part of over the summer. Teachers are worried about T-TESS.
Six weeks into the school year, and with several hours of training under my belt, I think I better understand a few things about T-TESS. I am much less worried, and maybe even a little excited about the change that this will bring to the teacher appraisal system in Texas. If I were a new or pre-service teacher, I would probably be very optimistic about how my career might be affected by T-TESS.
Here are some of my impressions, so far:
- Many school districts do a woeful job of mentoring new teachers and helping them begin new careers in a way that will serve them well for a long run as an educator. There are aspects to T-TESS that will help resolve that problem. In the former appraisal system – PDAS – teachers who were determined to be low performing in PDAS evaluations were designated “Teachers In Need of Assistance” or TINAs. This was a step of remediation that could be very harmful for the career and reputation of a teacher regardless of the outcome of the remediation. Many teachers were bounced to other campuses as administrative transfers, and too many ended up selling insurance instead of teaching. In T-TESS, there are no more TINAs because all teachers are considered to be in various stages of professional growth and development. All teachers will be expected to be continuously improving. All teachers – regardless of their years of experience – will be on “growth plans”. I personally think that is a good thing – especially for younger, less experienced teachers.
- There has often been a disconnect between professional development and a teacher’s goals for professional improvement. Of course, it has always been my prerogative to set a PD goal and then go find training that would help me achieve that goal, and I have done that quite often. T-TESS ensures that there is a direct link between the professional goals that I set for myself (for which there must also be a direct link to what happens in my classroom) and the training that I receive. Put it simply, if a principal approves a professional goal for me and my classroom performance, there is an obligation for that principal to facilitate my obtaining the PD needed to support that goal and ensure its success. As one administrator put it, districts will have to provide a new kind of training opportunity, and principals will have to make time available for teachers to pursue that training – even if it means providing “clock time” and a substitute to cover classes.
So, I have submitted my goals for my classroom, and they have been approved according to T-TESS guidelines. I am looking for the professional development opportunities to support my goals. Interestingly enough, I had already set goals for myelf some some months ago that have been approved for T-TESS, and I spent the summer supporting those with PD opportunities. Next spring, I will submit goals for the new year some 4-5 months before that new year begins, and I will have the summer to seek training opportunities. I am fortunate that I have extremely effective and innovative administrators on my campus who are working with me to find creative, individualized PD possibilities to finish out my T-TESS strategies.
My impression so far is that T-TESS is a well packaged systematic approach to teacher appraisal that has a strong level of continuity for its individual parts. Yes, it is new, and that will take some getting used to for most of us. Yes, it is different, and yes, I believe it just might be a lot better than what I experienced with PDAS. But, as Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, said in his TEDTalk, “The New Rules of Innovation”, “Innovation is the process by which we change the world…It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things.” (George Couros’ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, p. 20).
Comments: Please feel free to add your own comments on the T-TESS and this blog post in the comments section below.