On a recent Tuesday morning at Dexter Elementary School, kindergarten teacher Ashley DeBerry and Tyler Salyer sat down to talk. Salyer used to be a teacher, then he joined the Shelby County Schools Performance Improvement Team, or PIT Crew.
“You ready to get down to business?” he asked DeBerry.
This is DeBerry’s first year teaching and she’s getting a lot of help. A more senior teacher at Dexter Elementary mentors her, she collaborates with the other kindergarten teachers, and she checks in with Salyer regularly.
Tennessee’s teachers are getting their grades under a new evaluation system, but the new system isn’t just about handing out scores. The state says the primary purpose is to give teachers feedback that improves their teaching.
For most of their 30-minute chat, Salyer asks DeBerry questions and she answers them.
He wants to know—how is she assessing her students to see if they understand what she is teaching them? Deberry says she has her kindergarteners give her a thumbs up, thumbs down, or a thumbs to the side.
“Thumbs up means I got it, I can move on. Thumbs down means I need some help, I am confused,” DeBerry said.
All new Shelby County Schools teachers have conversations like this regularly. These conversations are what Assistant Superintendent of Teaching, Learning and Professional Development Laura Link says the new teacher evaluations are all about.
“Our superintendent very pointedly placed evaluations in professional development. They are not in HR. We see it as a growth platform, not a hiring and firing platform,” Link said.
DeBerry won an award for her teaching this year. The Shelby County Education Association gave her best new teacher of the year. She says the conversations she had with Salyer were helpful.
“I’m a first year teacher, I’m not sure,” DeBerry said. “And I’m going into my second year and I’m not going to be sure of a lot of things in my second year.”