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The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
Every year, Tennessee educators and administrators are invited to take the Tennessee Educator Survey (TES) created by the Tennessee Department of Education in partnership with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt University.
For over a decade, the survey has provided insight into how educators, from all over the state, perceive the policies, practices and climate of the schools that they work in. According to the Tennessee Department of Education, this information is gathered so as to “empower stakeholders and decision-makers across the state to better meet the needs of teachers.”
A set of questions added to the survey last year after Tennessee’s schools shut down in the spring of 2020, remained in the survey conducted this year between March 8th and April 30th, documenting how the experience of teachers has changed since the start of the pandemic.
While the 2021 TES garnered responses from 50% of all teachers across the state (over 40,000 in all) and 54% of school leaders, some larger districts drew less than 45% participation and the results from these districts (Metro Nashville, Sumner, Maury and Williamson counties) were not included in the final report.
Teachers reported that although there have been challenges this school year, teaching virtually last year was much more difficult than this year’s in-person instruction. During the 2020-2021 school year, approximately 60% of teachers said they were only able to cover 75% or less of the curriculum they would normally cover in a year.
With educators recommending strategies such as summer school and extended school days to help students catch up from last year, it’s not surprising that the issue of top concern in relation to COVID-19 in the 2021 TES was students missing out on instructional time during the school year.
When it comes to non-academic needs of students, educators feel that more support is needed. Teachers were asked, “From your perspective, which of the following is the most urgent need for additional support/resources at your school?” Survey results list the top need as Counseling, Psychological and Social Services, followed by Social and Personal Skills and School Climate. Family Engagement and Employee Wellness were also near the top of the list.
Other areas of concern highlighted by the TES: less than 60% of teachers reported that their students have access to nutritious food when not at school and around 1 in 5 teachers report not having access to either training or resources to support students who are experiencing trauma or struggling with mental health challenges.
The TES has been asking teachers input since 2018 on school climate and culture, including general satisfaction with being a teacher. In 2021, 91% of teachers reported that they were satisfied with teaching at their school, and 82% plan to continue teaching next year at the same school. This is surely welcome news as only 35% of administrators in rural areas reported having a large enough pool of applicants from which to choose a qualified applicant for open teaching positions.
The findings of the TES help shape initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Education’s “Best for All” strategy in the areas of Academics, Student Readiness, and Educators. Despite the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in all these areas, the survey finds that Tennessee is swiftly addressing learning loss and that overall, teachers remain positive about their profession and the future.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and contributor to The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.