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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with second-year teacher Terry Mascolino about teacher job security

13

March

Teacher Legislation moving through the Florida Legislature would radically alter the way teachers are evaluated and paid, leaving the idea of "tenure" behind. The bill that's out would tie salaries to student performance, place teachers on five years of probation and eliminate the professional services contract for annual contracts after five years. Terry Mascolino, a second-year Pasco County teacher, has some concerns about what the proposal would mean for his long-term job security. He spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about the legislation.

Why did you want to be a teacher?

It basically came out of a lot of community service work that I did while in high school. I worked for my high school Key Club in Manatee County. We did a lot of tutoring, and we did a lot of things as far as math fairs, Special Olympics. And when I sat back and got my first semester of college, I was like, what can I do so I don't feel like I'm miserable on a daily basis. I want to do something I enjoy. And when I reflected back on what I had done, it became evident that working with kids and that kind of interaction with the groups some something that I truly enjoyed.

So this is something you do because of the fulfillment you get in helping kids.

Oh absolutely. Yeah. Watching the kids learn, or, as I call it, the light switch turning on when we start talking about things in history like the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence. When they start to learn about the Bill of Rights and what their rights are that were laid out in the 1700s, it's just amazing to see the kids start to take all that in.

So what do you think about the push, then, to change the way that teachers are evaluated and rated, the way the contracts are granted?

The first thing that jumped out at me was the concept of putting teachers for up to five years ... on probationary contracts. It's just not very comforting to think you went to school, you got your degree and when you enter the job field you have five years pretty much of uncertainty as far as what your job status is. That was the first thing that jumped out at me. And after the five years you get an annual contract. You're good only one year to one year to one year. That's just not a very comforting thing in the least.

What were you expecting?

As far as when I came out? I was fully expecting to be assessed and to be evaluated on my performance, but with the concept of tenure. Being able to put in however many years of service it required to be on a professional service contract, where it wouldn't be necessarily an annually renewed thing. Where I was set and my raises were structured and everything like that. Basically a nice solid structure of where you start, where you are heading and knowing what your accomplishments are professionally throughout ... would take me.

So you wanted to have a career ladder.

Yeah. Absolutely. I wanted to have some structure. You know, after coming out of college, living in an apartment, dorms possibly, you look forward to living a life with structure. I want to buy a home. Maybe I couldn't do that my first year, but after I climb that ladder to that step I can start to do that. That was something for me, paying attention to the long term goals of education overall.

What about some of the other pieces? I know they're talking about having teachers be evaluated based on student results.

Well, of course our main job as teachers is to educate our students and to help them show learning gains, to improve from where they entered your class at the beginning of the year to the end. The only real problem I have with it as an educator and especially as a newer educator is currently in the state with FCAT, I don't like to see more testing on our students, especially when that testing directly links to educators' pay scale. I just think that's an added component to the education system that is not necessary. Currently the FCAT tests we're taking deal with reading, math and science. ... Now you're going to say in the eighth-grade system they're going to have to create one for history and I would imagine for any other academic electives under this plan. ...

It sounds more like you're concerned about giving students more tests than you are about being rated on the outcome of the tests, that you are willing to accept being evaluated on their work but you just don't want to test them so much.

Well, not so much that I'm overly happy about being evaluated on their work. I just don't like the idea of it being one assessment. Because is one assessment truly how much gain you've made in the classroom? For instance, say you have a student in your class who at the beginning of the year would do nothing .... And by the end of the year you've got him or her completing assignments. Now, their test might not show gains. But that student has gained knowledge. He or she has done more. So I don't like setting it all on one test.

But are you okay with the idea of having someone evaluate you based on your students' performance if they look at each student individually, then?

That's a tricky one. ... I kind of feel for me personally I do so much individual reflection on my students ... I'm only in my second year. So I can't necessarily say for sure that I would be able to say yes. The reason being, I've never been formally assessed in my subject area. I've never been able to look at an FCAT result for history. So in my specific subject area I can't say, well, yeah, last year my kids, 90 percent had learning gains. ...

Do you think overall teachers ought to be evaluated based on the performance of their students?

As far as the way it's laid out in SB 6, I don't agree with it being solely based on that. And the way it's written, 50 percent of your pay scale is based on that. I think that that's a very large portion of your pay based on your crop of students. The reason I don't favor that is because of different situations in different schools. ... Let's say you're a first year teacher and you're hired in eighth grade, like I was last year. If you're in a looping situation, I would then be going down to sixth grade, and then to seventh. So my first three years of teaching, on a probationary contract under SB 6, I would be teaching brand new content that I had never taught before. So basing my evaluation on that I think a lot of teachers would be nervous about.

Not to mention, I read through the Senate bill ... It wasn't crystal to me. Are they going to base your learning gains on your students from that year only? Or is it from your previous year to the current year? ...

I think you're expecting to know too much.

Well, it is my job. (Laughs)

So it sounds like you have a lot of concerns and questions about what they are trying to accomplish. Is there anything you would say to them to make it something that you could work with? Because it seems like they're headed down this direction.

It would be that they need to work with teachers and the districts, especially the ones that oppose it. They need to be open to the opposition. ... Gov. Crist has stated several times about the gains that FLorida has made in education since he came into office as governor. The districts have been acclaimed. But the way it feels is they're saying it's not good enough. ... If I could talk to them about it, I would ask, are you going to sit down and talk to the individual teachers that this is going to be affecting? ... Are you going to come talk to people like me, first and second year teachers that just got done with a 14-week unpaid internship to come into a probationary contract for five years? How do you expect to obtain effective teachers and retain them? That would be my concern.

Would you have come into teaching if you had known you were coming into a five-year probationary status followed by annual contracts to be renewed every year?

It would be hard to say for sure. Because I really did and still do enjoy teaching. I really did look at it as something I could make a career out of that I could enjoy on a day to day basis. I felt I could be successful. It would be hard to say as a fact because it wasn't what I came into. Speaking in general, I would look at areas like math and science, where some of the people that would come into teach those subject areas have a plethora of opportunities in the private sector to earn more money without worrying about an annual performance rating like that, where their work is dependent on what their students do. 

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:53am]

    

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