Will Teach 4 Food

Saddle up the reform ponies, reader. We’re headed to Tennessee—home to the Smokey Mountains, Dollywood, Graceland and a boldly innovative new way of paying teachers. If this bold new approach works, and studies already show that it has, Tennessee’s bold new approach will likely be coming to a state near you.

The Cumberland Gap
The first innovation contained in Tennessee’s innovative approach to paying teachers is that teachers are paid very little from the very beginning of their careers through the long fallow period known as the Cumberland Gap-widening years. You see, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, better known as TNeduCommish, understands that unlike the majority of professions, experience adds no value added. In fact, as a study by the National Council for Teacher Quality will demonstrate any minute, teacher quality actually deteriorates as experience amasses. Which is why the NCTQ will call for an even more innovative approach to compensating teachers: paying them less each year.

Experience ≠ Excellence
Happily, we can use TNeduCommish’s own story to document what we don’t need fancy “studies” and “research” to tell us: excellence is an excellent attribute to have. Earlier this year, TNeduCommish dropped by a high school English AP class to subject himself to the state’s increasingly rigorous and vigorous evaluation machine. 

Huffman decided to subject himself to the same classroom
observation and post-conference session with school leaders that ultimately counts for half of a teacher’s evaluation.

How did he do? Reader: he *crushed* it. TNeduCommish scored “a four or five,” or at the top of the profession. And here’s the most excellent part. Not only had TNeduCommish not been in a classroom for 18 years, his own experience Teaching for America occurred in a first grade bilingual class. That’s how excellent he is. (Note: italics added for emphasis).

Hire Education
TNeduCommish’s bold new plan doesn’t just exclude experience in favor of excellence, it also eliminates rewards for teachers who get advanced degrees. Once again, the inspiring story of TNeduCommish is all of the evidence we need for why this proposal is so urgently needed. Did he have to go an get an advanced degree, say a completely useless PhD in English, in order to shower the students in Lara Charbonnet’s AP English Lit class with excellence? I don’t think so! You don’t matriculate your way to excellence, reader. It pulses in your blood like a life force. Which is why you will rarely if ever hear TNeduCommish refer to the importance of higher education.

The best and most excellent part of Tennessee’s new teacher rewards system is that it is alive with merit. Study after study has shown that using merit pay in an effort to raise standardized test scores is an expensive flop—which just goes to show the fierce urgency of meritizing Tennesee’s public schools. And great news, reader. As this excellent teacher and recipient of a merit bonus check signed by TNeduCommish himself can attest, the merit plan has a lot of merit:

“I think it’s a great plan,” said fourth-grade teacher Chris Freeman. “I think it rewards teachers for doing a superb job. It’s tailor-made for me. I’m in charge of my own destiny. I control my own children and my own scores.”

Meet Mr. Merit
For the ultimate proof of the merit system’s inherent merit, we need look no further than TNeduCommish. While his predecessor earned $180,000 to serve in Tennessee’s top education job, the governor gave TNeduCommish a cool $20K raise, making him the highest paid and most meritorious official in the state. Reader: America is a meritocracy, which means that we pay people according to the salary that we believe they merit. And while teachers in Tennessee do not merit very much, the gentleman who oversees them merits a great deal. Also, as Governor Haslam no doubt understands, dismantling an education system is nowhere near as easy as just running one.

Send career retraining ideas to tips@haveyouheardblog.com.


  1. I mistook TNeduCommish’s twitter handle as TedNugent for a sec. “Commish” is pretty badass.

  2. AP English??? Really??? I’d love to see him come into my classroom, teach my middle schoolers an innovative, ‘Common Core’ mathematics lesson in my greater-than-50% free-and-reduced-lunch rural TN school where poverty, or near-poverty, is prevalent, and parents are nowhere to be found. The number of foster kids increases every year, parents on drugs – many in jail, grandparent(s) (in some cases, GREATgrandparent(s)) raising kids on fixed incomes. NOT ONE elected official with education decision-making power has EVER darkened the door of my classroom in my 14 years teaching middle school math. Actually, I’d just like to see ALL of them, including Holy Commish, take the ‘assessments’ my kids take in April!! THAT would be hilarious!!!

  3. Was it a true unbiased evaluation or did they give him high scores because he controls a lot of decisions over teaching and administrative jobs…..Use an unknown evaluator from another state with the same evaluation standards and I’ll believe it….The evaluation does not measure what the students have learned because it does not require a task analysis to evaluate if the lesson taught was truly comprehensible per se the entire class….Did he really reach all the students or were ADD or ADHD students removed for the day? Did they do an exit ticket per each student to know if they truly learned the lesson….Surely just because you say so, doesn’t make it true…I’m just keeping it real and waiting on effective and real change to occur in Tennessee…not horse and pony shows…

    1. TN’s TEAM 1 to 5 pt evaluation scale is about as valid as a car dealership’s service survey or a AAA bond rating on mortgage backed securities. But then, should you expect accuracy from an evaluation designed by junk bond felon Michael & his brother Lowell Milken?

      TEAM evaluators were trained to mark most teachers with a ‘3’ score. A ‘3’ is “Rock Solid”. There are no teachers who are a ‘5’ (superexcellent) except the Comish & Kim Jong-il, of course. A few who are a 4, and the rest 1’s and 2’s. ComishHuffman came into office earning his 200 grand with the pronouncement that teachers in TN are overrated. He and his TfAers embarked on a state wide hand-slapping mission for superintendents whose principals give too many 4’s & 5’s. Teacher’s scoring 1’s & 2’s were restructured out of their jobs. Guess where most of those 1’s & 2’s teachers were teaching? If you said inner city Memphis & Nashville you would be correct.

  4. Rumor has it that this article was more of a tall tale. Collierville High School isn’t your average school and apparently Huffman didn’t exactly rise to the high expectations that the students in the class have. I mean really… Taylor Swift? AP English Lit at Collierville? This was the best he could do?

    1. Since the teacher’s name is mentioned, let me just add that I have heard it said by several people, teachers and members of the Collierville community that this teacher is energetic and outstanding. Too bad her students missed a full class period without her in the lead.

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