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VOL. 129 | NO. 145 | Monday, July 28, 2014

School Year Brings New Lessons for Teachers

By Bill Dries

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When the school year begins on Aug. 4 for Shelby County Schools and the six suburban public school systems, the learning process will begin not only for students but for teachers.

With another historic change in school districts ahead, teachers across the county are preparing for a new school year that begins Aug. 4.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

As the larger system-wide changes of the demerger have played out, teachers across the county have been preparing for the world inside classrooms that always offers change at the beginning of a new school year.

Registration day is Tuesday, July 29, for Shelby County Schools, the six suburban school systems and the state-run Achievement School District.

That’s also the day the state of Tennessee releases to the public results for individual school districts from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test scores measuring student achievement and growth.

Shelby County Schools teachers – new and veteran – gathered at Bellevue Baptist Church for a two-day orientation session last week with plenty to review.

“The stakes are high and we set high priorities for student achievement in the district,” said Mendy Gaia, part of the performance improvement team – or PIT crew – that developed the training. “They know that we stress the importance of their effectiveness in the classroom and what’s at stake for these kids in our district. Hopefully we try to ease that transition as much as we can with the support network that we provide for them.”

Karen Vogelsang, a fourth grade teacher at Keystone Elementary School this coming school year, will be moving to fourth grade with some of her third grade students from last year at Keystone.

But because the area’s school-age population is so transient, she estimates about a third of her students will be new to her classroom.

“You do have that challenge of being able to meet your students where they are academically, where they are socially, where they are emotionally – understanding all of that contributes to the road map you lay in front of you,” she said.

Vogelsang is an 11-year veteran and she says the experience helps although challenges remain like the new reading series this school year aligned with Common Core standards.

For her, it begins with knowing who her students are and where they are academically and outside their test scores.

“I don’t think there is a teacher out there that would tell you that they don’t feel some stress related to state testing,” she said. “But I think the bottom line is we want to understand where our students are and we want to help them grow. … It’s critical for us to know our students.”

Katurah Dunlap is a second-year teacher who will be new to Snowden School where she will teach seventh grade science.

And like Vogelsang she will be learning personalities as well as academic ability as she and the students build a relationship and a “warm and inviting classroom.”

“You have to come in knowing what you want to do because you will get sidetracked just with having a lot of new students,” Dunlap said. “I’ll give them assessments to see where they are – what they know already coming into seventh grade science and learning personalities.”

For Dunlap the collaboration across classrooms is something she’s seen the value of first hand. She recalled a student who had been a discipline problem in her classroom last year.

“It wasn’t until I actually saw this student out in the hallway and I asked the teacher who had put him out,” she said, recalling that she approached that teacher. “We found out that he was basically doing the same thing in every teacher’s class.”

An intervention plan followed that linked up his classes.

“It could be something that’s going on in everyone’s classroom,” she said. “When it becomes a disruption you have to find a solution to it.”

Gaia said that’s a difference from when she started teaching.

“We didn’t have the support network in place years ago that there is now,” she said. “I’m sure that for some new teachers it still is a culture shock because there are a lot of new things that are expected of them in the classroom and with how they relate to parents and students.”

A sense of urgency is among the expectations as well as the higher standards for students.

“We want them to be comfortable with what they need to do to get their students started on the very first day of school,” Gaia added. “So that time is not wasted … and they can begin focusing on instruction right away.”

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