Each year the staff of Leesville Road High School votes on the winner of the coveted “Teacher Of The Year” award. This award is given, but with very few references — teachers have no opportunity to witness other teachers in their classrooms. Without witnessing a teacher lead a class, there is no way to accurately decide who is the “teacher of the year.” Angela Scioli, a teacher at Leesville for twenty-five years and activist in the political community, is attempting to address this issue in the form of a state spanning law.
Throughout her years at Leesville, Scioli has been deeply involved with school activities. She has taught nine different social studies based courses, as well as coached JV cheerleading, cross country, and track. In addition, Scioli sponsored Future Teachers Club, currently oversees the Gender Orientation and Acceptance Club, and works on the Scholarship Committee (a group that decides which students will receive scholarships) and Graduation Committee .
[pullquote]“Overtime, however, my focus has become less Leesville based and more state based,” said Scioli. [/pullquote]“In 2013, I disagreed with the policies related to education that were being passed at the state legislature. So, I started the symbolic protest movement called “Red For Ed” with the help of some other teachers here at Leesville. That began my journey into state-wide education.”
Lately, Scioli has been utilizing insider tactics to meet with state level politicians to discuss education policy. She reserves a day out of each semester known as “guest speaker day” for politicians to visit her classroom. In addition, Scioli takes time out of her own life to meet with members of the state Congress. These are the types of elevated teaching/communication tactics that Scioli feels should be rewarded and taught to other teachers.
“Once policy makers know that you are a ‘good teacher’ I tend to find that they are receptive to listening to you,” said Scioli.[pullquote] “They really don’t have any idea what teaching and schools are like today. I think the federal government has found out– and the state policy is finding out– that ed[ucation] policy is actually extremely complicated and nuanced.[/pullquote] “You can start doing something with good intentions that has fully negative consequences without even seeing the train coming down the track.”
Another major issue in the education field is the salary. Unfortunately, aside from changing careers, a teacher salary is a teacher salary start to finish. Very few people are seeing the purpose in pursuing such a field due to the relatively low pay and recognition that fails to increase throughout an educator’s’ career.
“It’s a shame that if you don’t want to be an administrator, and you don’t want to be in the district office, and you just really love teaching…there are very few advanced roles you can assume,” said Scioli.
Scioli took the path less traveled in resolving both this issue and the one regarding the “teacher of the year” awards: her own. Scioli enlisted the help of Kara McCraw, an ex-Leesville teacher and legal counsel for the state legislature’s General Assembly, as well as Craig Horn, the House Chair of Education.
With their help and the assistance of other related committees, Scioli drafted a pilot, budget, and proposal for her new state-spanning law.
The pilot program would have to occur in half of the school districts in the state. The school systems chosen would then have to choose ten percent of their teachers to participate in the pilot.
“Every time the state legislature is in town…I run down there and try and meet with a new Representative or Senator on the education committees,” said Scioli. “I try to get them to one–understand the program; two — help me improve it; and three — hopefully support or sponsor it on the floor of the House and the Senate.”
Initiating the pilot program would be the first step. Through the pilot, teachers with five years of experience and “accomplished ratings” on 20 out of 25 indicators on their teacher evaluation instrument could apply to be “master teachers”.
“At the point they become a master teacher, their classroom becomes an open classroom, almost like a type of lab that anyone is welcome to visit,” said Scioli. “The teacher would also declare publicly to the rest of the faculty what parts of the teacher evaluation they are best in. They [master teachers] would also identify what they are working on, what the classroom rationale is, and anything else via a digitally accessible school wide document.”
Twice a year, non-master teachers would be given a day off (one day in the fall and another in the spring) to go view master teachers teach. These non-master teachers would get to decide for themselves which master teacher to watch. For example, if a master teacher was focusing on a particular aspect of teaching that the non-master teacher was weak in, a viewing in that particular classroom could be an excellent opportunity to learn ways to improve.[pullquote]“The way you teach is very tailored to your personality, your student’s needs, and the subject matter–very little of teacher practice is easily transferable,”said Scioli. [/pullquote]
The goal of this program is to award recognition where it is due to teachers who are doing great things. The second goal is to promote a highly relevant and more self directed model of professional learning for teachers.
“But, if teachers see something great going on in another classroom, then they’ll figure out how to replicate something like that in their own specific teaching context. …And maybe now when we vote on teacher of the year, it can be a more meaningful testament to exceptional teaching practice,” said Scioli.