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Opportunities for teachers to weigh in on state policy increase with SCORE fellowship, Teacher Advisory Council

When Eva Boster became the Tennessee Department of Education’s first teacher ambassador this winter, she knew that facilitating collaboration between teachers would be an important feature of her job.

“As a teacher you can feel like an island,” said Boster, who was a 5th grade reading and social studies teacher before working for the state full-time. But after conducting teachers’ roundtables across the state for half of the school year, she repeatedly heard from teachers that they wanted more time to plan together and share best practices.

So Boster proposed that the department of education form a Teacher Advisory Council, to meet at least twice a year and discuss top educational issues with each other, as well as inform the department leaders how policy is playing out in the classroom. The council will be composed of the nine Teacher of the Year semifinalists, which come from each of nine regions, and the three Grand Semifinalists winners from the year before. Grand semifinalists winners serve two year terms, while semifinalists serve for one year.

“It’s easy to sit in Nashville and forget what actually happens in the classroom,” Boster said. She hopes that the Teacher Advisory Council will serve as a channel of a communication between schools and the department of education, with the council explaining school-level problems to state officials as well as going back to their schools and explaining state policies.

A common critique of the department of education and commissioner Kevin Huffman is that they are aloof from local educators.

Boster said she predicts that one of the aims of the council, which will meet in-person bi-annually, will be developing means that the state can better support teachers with new standards, and possibly a new assessment. But Boster says the council’s agenda will ultimately be determined by the council members themselves.

No one, including Huffman, is certain if he’ll be the education commissioner after November’s gubernational election. But Boster says that because the council is tied to the state’s teacher of the year program, it’s safe, regardless of the administration in Nashville. Department officials decided to make teacher of the year candidates members of the council because the application process is geared toward individuals who wish to be ambassadors for their profession, Boster said.

The announcement for the Teacher Advisory Council came just a day before the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) announced its teacher fellowship,  which will allow three teachers to spend a year to  “learn about, reflect upon, inform, and advocate for policies, practices, and systems that impact educator effectiveness and student achievement,” according to a press release. SCORE is an advocacy and education research group focused on Tennessee  founded by former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist.

Unlike the Advisory Council, the SCORE fellowship is open to any Tennessee teacher who has at least three years of classroom experience. The foundation is accepting applications for the 2014-2015 school year until July 18.