Knox County Schools - Serving Only the Rubric

Last month, I resigned from Knox County Schools, after eighteen years in the district and twenty-three years teaching in Tennessee.  I can’t imagine that a letter could begin to mention all of the problems that are inherent throughout the district – or even the problems witnessed by an individual employee.  My letter is limited to just a few of my concerns from the last three years.

My personal information, contact information, and school information have been redacted from this post.  If necessary, I can be contacted via the “comments” section at the bottom.  (Please note:  All comments on this personal site are read prior to posting & may take up to 48 hours to appear.)

 

[personal information redacted]

Dear Dr. McIntyre:

Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation from the position of Music Teacher at [redacted] Elementary.  I am certainly willing to continue in this position for up to thirty(30) days, per Board policy.  If a replacement is found earlier, I will be glad to be released from that requirement.  This resignation includes my appointment as BLTC and 500 – 1,000+ additional, unpaid hours of service I have given to [redacted]  Elementary each year.

I would love to say that I am accepting a fabulous new position, with amazing benefits and an incredible salary.  I am not.  I am leaving neither for higher pay nor fantastic perks.  I don’t have another job waiting.  I am leaving for my integrity.

On more than one occasion, I have heard Central Office supervisors or building administrators chastise: “Anyone who doesn’t agree with the way things are going in KCS should go elsewhere.”  I am one of 70% of KCS teachers who cannot agree with the status quo and it is time for me to pursue other opportunities, which are more aligned to my beliefs:

  • I believe that harassment, intimidation, coercion, retaliation, and threats of dismissal have no place in attracting, building, or retaining strong educators.
  • I believe that people should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of age or level of experience.
  • I believe that agreements should be honored and that attempts to circumvent disability accommodations are inexcusable.
  • I believe that an “Improvement Plan” should be set up to solve real problems, rather than to create additional, often pointless, hurdles and hoops to navigate.
  • I believe that honesty and integrity are important traits to be sought in persons who lead our schools and that deceptive practices have no place in education.
  • I believe that evaluations are important tools that should be taken seriously and should be done by “highly-qualified and unbiased evaluators” who are also qualified to perform the job they are evaluating.
  • I believe that failing to follow content-knowledgeable evaluation practices will continue to perpetuate poor feedback that is rarely pedagogically appropriate and often makes no musical sense.
  • I believe that discussing conflicting feedback with evaluators and explaining what is or is not pedagogically appropriate should be a positive avenue to high quality development, rather than being met with belittling accusations of “being negative.”
  • I believe that some schools have made great efforts to ensure their arts curricula is using student work and assessment in ways that are appropriate for each subject, rather than imposing pedagogically irresponsible activities that devalue students’ musicianship and ignore necessary aural and visual assessments evaluators do not understand.
  • I believe that it is ludicrous and irresponsible to say that my strengths and/or weaknesses are being realistically assessed, when in 3 years and 12 evaluations, NONE of my evaluators have been qualified to teach my class.
  • I believe that reports of biased evaluators must be fully reported and investigated.
  • I believe that employees should have the right to request a representative in ANY meeting, where they feel it is needed, regardless of the meeting’s official intent.
  • I believe that taking a nationally recognized observance of supporting public education (“Wear Red for Public Ed.”), and prostituting it to look like some kind of red-shirt vs blue-shirt / evil vs good battle, is beyond shameful.
  • I believe that it takes an evil soul to tell teachers that staying home and/or seeing a doctor when necessary is evidence that they don’t care about their students.
  • I believe that the PECCA laws, flawed as they are, set up an avenue for collaboration between teachers and their boards of education and that our BOE (individually, and as a whole), blatantly refuses to do their due diligence in seeing the law carried out, at the same time, undermining the process by using a “teacher working group” to publicly feign interest in correcting deficiencies.

As I was making the decision to leave Knox County Schools, I thought that I might afford KCS one last chance to retain a highly qualified, experienced, content specialist and I interviewed for another position within the district.  My question to the interviewer:  “When you walk into a music classroom, what do you expect to see?”

I hope you will pause and imagine what you would want to see in a music classroom if you or your child were learning there.  We might expect answers like, “Children making music,” “Singing, dancing, and playing instruments,”  “Children learning to create their own sounds and motions,” or simply, “Joy.”

The hard face that looked back at me, gave none of those answers.  I was told, “When I walk into a classroom, I expect to see every point on that rubric hit.  Every one.  There is no excuse for any teacher to not hit every one.”  And it was clear to me, that this job is no longer about children.  Knox County Schools serves only the rubric.

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27 comments to Knox Co Schools – Serving the Rubric

  • Linda H

    Please read this at the BOE! There is another teacher reading her letter in September. SPEAK needs you!

    • Hi, Linda
      Thank you for commenting!

      I have actually been very vocal (in print) and have been advocating for students and teachers for several years, and through several organizations. I will continue to be an advocate, and will continue to attend BOE meetings and give live reports on Facebook and Twitter.

      Though I will not be able to speak tomorrow night, I may consider it in the future. This letter really doesn’t scratch the surface – and I will be posting much, much more. :)

  • Patti B

    Thanks for your years of service

  • Girl, you are a freakin’ ROCK STAR. And every one of those points could have been written/voiced by far too many of us veteran teachers: I’m a 4th generation teacher, and I gave 25 years of my life to KCS, including two years as the full-time release KCEA President, 2003-2005. Of course, the leadership at Central Office was different then: Our Fearless Leader was actually a former TEACHER: kindergarten and music!

  • Dan

    Great stuff. If I had asked that question in an interview and received the answer you did I probably would have stood up and left. I taught in KCS for three years, after three previous years in northern VA, and as a young teacher had my enthusiasm for the profession wrung right out of me. I have since left Knoxville to relocate for my wife’s job, and am no longer teaching. I’ve found my quality of life has significantly improved since leaving behind the stress of the teaching world. I miss being in the classroom and interacting with my 5th graders, but I don’t miss being looked down upon and being told how to do my job by people who couldn’t do my job because they don’t know how.
    Best of luck in your future endeavors!

    • Thank you for sharing your experience!

      “had my enthusiasm for the profession wrung right out of me” is what I hear over and over! Sadly, it really expresses the feeling perfectly.

      The question of expectations was the very last question in the interview, or I might not have been able to stay in my chair. It helped, that I called my husband as soon as I got to the car and said, “There is no way in Hell I would work there!” and actually ran into the house to log in to SearchSoft and withdraw my interest in the position. Even so, we all know that this is the prevailing attitude – whether admitted or not.

      Thank you again, for your comments and I wish you well! :)

  • Angela

    I applaud your decision and wish you the best in your future endeavors. You have voiced the same concerns that a great many teachers have throughout the state. I work in a different Tennessee school system and have had the same experiences. Again, I wish you well.

    • Thank you!

      I have talked with many teachers over the past four years, who were so emotionally wrung out when they retired, that they just could not tell their stories. (Had I continued, I’m sure I would have eventually felt the same.) We both know that those who are still teaching are intimidated beyond belief and live in fear of losing their jobs over the least little miss-step – and cannot tell their stories. If enough of us stand up and tell the truth, I hope the climate will change and people will be able to tell the truth about what is happening in their schools.

      Thank you for the encouragement!

  • Jason G.

    Jennifer — I know that leaving teaching was not easy for you (however, I know the struggles you have faced over the past few years, both from what I have read online and from knowing you personally). If I am ever in Knoxville again when they are having a board meeting for the public to speak, I’d LOVE to go explain to the board exactly why I gave up my tenure and took a pay cut to teach on the other end of the state. If I had been able to have more time in Knoxville before I officially left, I’d have done it then. Bravo to you! I hope all goes well.

  • Paul

    yet ANOTHER reason why I am glad I left Tennessee to teach music in a state (Texas) where they value music teachers who teach CONTENT.

  • Here are some additional comments that have been left on other sites. If any of these comments are yours, and you prefer that they not be included here, please let me know, and yours will be removed. On the flip side, If I missed your comment, please let me know, and I will add it in! :)

    ———————-

    RH: I admire you.

    WC: Bless your heart, Jennifer! Thank you for sharing your letter.

    BL: Thanks for sharing your letter. I understand your frustration with the district, and they are loosing wonderful teachers like yourself. Too bad the children aren’t enjoying learning like they use to. The teachable moments have been replaced by rubrics and a strict time schedules.

    WC: Your last paragraph just chills my heart for the future of music in elementary schools.

    CG: Awesome letter Jennifer!!!

    —————

    LM: So, did anyone from KCS respond to your letter? I think I already know the answer.

    Jennifer O: Yes! I delivered the letter Tuesday afternoon, and continued helping teachers set up computers for the next 3 days. (We had not started inservice, and were not “on contract” yet.) Friday morning, I couldn’t install a new teacher’s whiteboard software, because my permissions were no longer valid.

    On Friday afternoon, at 3:30 (more than 6 hours after the permissions changed), HR left a lovely phone message, saying that they appreciated my willingness to continue for thirty days, but that it would not be necessary… etc.

    ———————

    TK: I am sorry to hear that the children will not have the privilege of having you for their music teacher! Good luck!

    SV: Wow, just wow. I’m sure it speaks for so many who have left.

    Jennifer O: Thank you! Hopefully, I will be able to do some good advocating for more appropriate music instruction! (What I was asked to do certainly wasn’t.)

    ——————–

    LO: So sorry that KCS lost another teacher who really cared about her students. Best of Luck to you.

    DG: just breaks my heart…thank you for sharing.

    AR: thank you for sharing. I’m sorry the kiddos at your school won’t have the opportunity to learn from you :/

    ————————

    KH: I am so sorry to know that because of the current state of things in KCS district, this will continue to happen. Because of that, my children will miss the opportunity to have great teachers who truly care.

    Jennifer O: – There are still lots of great teachers, who really care, working in KCS! However, many of them are being pushed beyond reasonable human limits. The business leaders who continue supporting the warped KCS agenda have to wake up to the negative impact this will eventually have on our entire community – including the businesses they think they are helping.

    KH: I apologize if my comment came across as me thinking there are no great teachers left in KCS! I was trying to say that my children will not have the opportunity to have THOSE great teachers that are leaving the profession. I know there are still lots of great teachers, including my daughter’s current teacher. However, I’ve seen so many teachers leaving in the past year or so, and know it will continue to happen as long as nothing changes. My sister is a teacher in middle TN and the same thing is happening there as well. I give my full support to the teachers of Knox County and am doing what I can to make sure changes are made.

    Jennifer O: No need to apologize! I just want to be sure we are supporting those who are still teaching, until we can make real change! This is happening all over the country – and Tennessee is being used to push it along.
    I appreciate EVERY comment – and know that each comment gives another group of people a chance to see what is happening! Please let your sister know that we are thinking of her and that we are all in this together.

    ————————

    KM: As a fellow music professional who has seen your work first hand, I feel that KCS does not fully understand what a talented children’s advocate they are losing. You are an inspiration to many, and I am personally saddened by this loss. Thank you for your years of faithful service, and thank you for standing up for what is right.
    It’s a shame that they don’t even realize what they are losing.

    WC: Your last paragraph just chills my heart for the future of music in elementary schools.

    ——————-

    KG: The end of the letter almost made me cry. Terrible

    KP: heartbreaker:(

    TK: Wow, Jennifer. I’m sorry that you are leaving what you love. However I know that you will be happy soon.

    Jennifer O: Thank you, TK!! If sharing the truth does some good, for even one person, that will make me very happy, indeed! Love you!

    CG: So sad for the children to lose an amazing teacher that actually cared about them not about their data/numbers. The end made me cry. I wish only happiness and joy to you.

    Jennifer O: No tears!!! If anything, get angry and share it with the nay-sayers.

    ——————-

    TK: I have been lucky to sit in Jennifer’s music class. She is amazing.

    JM: This should not be…

    JN: The interviewer’s answer makes me sick.

    VS: I am so sorry, Jennifer.

    LP: It’s shared with my friends.

    CM: Wow. Give this to your students /parents too!

    LF: I’m so sorry, Jennifer. So sad and sickening………….

    GM: Good letter.

    RC: Admirable and heartbreaking.

    EB: Wow, you nailed it and I am sorry kcs has lost another great teacher

    MS: Very well written!!! We understand!!!

    MD: Well written & spot on. Kudos to you for standing up for our children!

  • Rick

    So sorry to see yet another great teacher demoralized and squashed by superintendent who couldn’t run a 2-hole outhouse with a turnstile, let alone a school system. For the life of me I can’t understand how one year of classroom experience elevated McIntyre to the position he has. I only wish the resignation letter I read above had been his rather than yours.

  • Hi Jennifer,

    I saw your story in the Knox News Sentinel article and thought I would tell you that you are 100% correct. This is happening everywhere and your story hopefully will be noted by school administrations all over. I was a band director in Blount County way back in 2002-2006 and left the field due to similar issues. I even ended up teaching a math class to help improve scores during my tenure there which, while I was technically capable, was not why I went into teaching. With your integrity I’m sure you will land on your feet in a better situation.

    Best of Luck to you!

    Dave Townsend

    • Thank you, Dave! I was also a middle school band director for 12 years, but that is a story for another day! We are asked to do far to many things for which we are “technically capable,” but those things are often not beneficial. Both of our schools systems are capable of using resources in ways that focus more on student learning and less on churning out data.

      The reason you were asked to teach the math class is in line with the problems our public schools are experiencing. While they tout student learning in PR material, the bottom line is always to “improve scores” – even when they have piles of evidence, showing that those scores are not reliable indicators of growth.

      I am sure that we will both be in a better situation – mostly because I know that it can’t get much worse (I hope it can’t get much worse!). Thank you for the encouragement!

  • Dustin

    If what I’ve read in the news stubs are true, I attended the school you taught at. I would have left that school for another local school just before you started there. I have had the opportunity to have had a good number of very dedicated school teachers from K all the way to 12. It saddens me to hear that a lot of them have left. Most of them leaving only within the last few years. From the English teacher in high school who would talk to me for a long time after school about everything all the way to the kindergarten teacher who sat me down and had a real serious talk with me about marriage (After I had asked her 6 times in one week to marry me), are all gone. Those that haven’t left that I have spoken to recently say they’re very unhappy. You can’t teach with just a rubric. Teaching, regardless of what you teach, is an art form.

  • Ben

    Thank you for speaking up. I am so sorry to see what you went through.

    [link removed]

  • Mary H

    My daughter was in kindergarten last year.Your class was her favorite. She cried when she found out that you would not be teaching this year. Thank you so much for your service and for standing up and speaking out.

    • Mary,
      That makes me cry, too! Please tell your daughter that I miss being there, but the new teacher is my friend, and I know they will have lots of fun making music together!

      Thank you for your kind words. I have had people ask whether I left “because of students” and I am stunned every time I hear that question. I always give the exact same answer: “The students are fabulous; the parents are great; the community is supportive; I couldn’t ask for better colleagues. It is the administration that makes it impossible to keep experienced teachers.”

      I know that your daughter will have a great year, because I know how hard her teachers will be working to make sure of it. Though we are sad now, if I can help make some changes that allow students to experience creativity and real learning, rather than how to bubble in “surveys” and tests, it will be worth it. Thank you for supporting me!

  • Dave

    I have no reason to doubt your assessment of the situation in KCS. I hear similar things from parents, students, and instructors alike. However, it would be helpful to your cause, I think, to know specifics. Your bullet points seem to me more like a framework, or an abstraction of grievances. Dr. McIntyre, no doubt, would dispute your claims, so it becomes a “he said, she said” discussion. In other words, the public (or at least, I) would like to know more than is given here.

    Good luck in your future endeavors.

    – David

    • David,
      Thank you for your input. I agree that specifics are needed. However, specifics would make it unreasonably long to include in a letter. Some of these will be detailed in the coming weeks.

      The current Board of Education has been presented with similar, specific accounts from other teachers. In response, they called those educators everything from “crazy” to “just not truthful.” Many of my concerns have written evidence to back them up. I want to be absolutely sure that I do my “due diligence” in lending perspective, as well as evidence, to each of those points, as well as some that I have not yet mentioned. This will take some time.

      I hope you will check back in the coming weeks and let me know whether I am detailing these problems in a way that is helpful. If you have specific questions I will be glad to try and answer those – either in another post or via email.

      Thank you!

  • Elaine

    Jennifer, I am so very sad that you are resigning from KCS, but I totally understand! I retired six years ago! Things have gone from bad to worse! I know that you are a wonderful teacher who cares about doing the right thing for students! I wish you the very best in your future endeavors! Please keep posting all the news so that those of us who are no longer in the loop can know what is happening!
    Love you,
    Elaine

  • Valerie

    I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. I want to thank you for not only the years of service you gave Knox County students, but for what you said. Our kids are not rubrics and deserve better than they’re getting under the current administration and Board, Nore are they commodities to be traded like penny stocks on Wall Street as the Governor allow his friends to do that are pushing to privatize our schools.

    • Thank you! It is very important that you and other parents talk to your Board of Education members and let them know how you feel. They still insist that it is only a small group of teachers who are displeased with the way they are performing. You and I both know that simply isn’t true. Please encourage others to talk to their Board member. :)

  • Lori

    Well said J.O. Thankfully, I got my 30 years done just in time! The people of this world have lost all common sense. Good luck in whatever you get into next. You ROCK!

    • Thank you! You absolutely left at the perfect time. I’m glad you never had to be a part of this mess. If every one of us can convince two others… you know the old shampoo commercial… “and so on, and so on…” – eventually the community will have to do something about it. :)
      Love you, Lori!

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