Leadership Policy
The Need for a Social Studies Coordinator
April 4, 2018
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Jeff Gray

Let me briefly introduce myself to you. I am a twenty-five-year veteran teacher and have taught social studies in Tennessee for thirteen years. I’ve also taught for six years as an adjunct professor in a college of education and am currently a Tennessee Hope Street Group Fellow. In addition, I am the founder of the First Tennessee History Alliance which provides monthly professional development opportunities for teachers in the First CORE Region.

Over the last ten years or so of teaching socials studies, I’ve noticed a particular issue in Tennessee that needs to be addressed. Considering very few systems can afford to have a social studies coordinator to provide quality professional development and support for the social studies teachers, I think the best option would be for each CORE region to have an in-house social studies coordinator to serve the entire region. Ideally this person would provide professional development for the teachers in his/her region. He/she would also apply for grants in order to provide quality summer institutes for the teachers in the summers. Further, this person would serve as a resource for each system in supporting the social studies teachers in the classroom – model lessons, serve as a teacher-coach, organize a network so that teachers could go see quality instruction provided by other teachers, facilitate vertical alignment among the three levels of education (primary, middle, and high school teachers) in order to prepare our students for the rigor that is now expected, just to name a few roles this person could fulfill. I think this person could also serve in some capacity with the area universities by being a “liaison” between the colleges of education and the social sciences departments to recruit the best and brightest to consider teaching as a career.

Here are several reasons for the need of this position:

  1. Although there is limited data available in Tennessee due to the testing problems in recent years, it does appear that the test scores indicate a definite need. In 2016, only 29.9% of Tennessee HS students were on track or mastering levels on the US history EOC. In 2017, only 30.8% were on track or mastering levels on the US history EOC. This is not acceptable and, frankly, embarrassing.
  2. Studies indicate test scores increase when a teacher obtains an advanced degree in his/her content area. This suggests that the more content knowledge the teacher has, the more his/her students learn. Unfortunately, a large portion of the social studies teachers at the elementary and middle grades levels do not have the content background necessary to teach the current rigorous standards. The new standards that will roll out in 2019 continue that same rigor. Take my district as an example. No elementary teacher has a history degree, and only three middle school social studies teachers have a history degree. (This is one of the reasons I created the First Tennessee History Alliance). Consequently, the vast majority of teachers, although intelligent and educated people, just do not have the necessary content knowledge when they enter that social studies classroom. We are setting them up to struggle, and possibly fail.
  3. Few systems in Tennessee can afford a social studies coordinator, especially in the rural areas. So, this would be a shared expense, making it much cost effective.
  4. The work of the position requires one full-time person. The regions are just too large for a part-time person to be able to adequately perform the necessary duties AND still teach in the classroom. (Frankly, it would difficult for two part-timers to do the job).
  5. Presently, the channels for disbursing information from the State level to the teachers are, well, lacking. The state social studies coordinator is constantly answering the same questions because misinformation is disseminated among and within the LEA’s. A CORE Level Coordinator would help streamline information so that all will be abreast of any news or changes that come from the State.
  6. When data on social studies testing finally does start rolling in for all teachers, they will need assistance in reading that data and making adjustments to their instruction. A coordinator would be very beneficial in this area.
  7. Social studies teachers can be a great asset for a content that actually “counts” – English/Language Arts. One of the goals of a social studies teacher is to teach the students to think critically and analyze primary sources.  Then, have the students take those sources and use them to support their writing. These are valuable, transferable skills that every citizen of Tennessee should be able to do. We are the perfect content area to make that happen. If social studies teachers had training and support from a coordinator, they’d be far more willing and successful in teaching these skills.

Finally, I’ve seen this work in my career. I served as the American History Lead Teacher in the nineteenth largest system in the United States. It is comparable in size to most of the CORE Regions in Tennessee.  Not in square miles, mind you, but in the total number of schools and students. In that position, I was able to properly serve those teachers and students. I’m sure one could do the same even in the CORE regions as large as they are geographically.

So, it is clear. It is time for action. It is time for the State of Tennessee to make a commitment to the teaching of the social studies. Now is the time to create a CORE Level Social Studies Coordinator.

Jeff has taught 7th/8th grade social studies at Ridgeview Elementary School in Gray, Tennessee for the last eight years and adjunct professor for the Clemmer College of Education at East Tennessee State University for the last five years. In addition, he has taught 8th grade social studies and US History in five schools located in three different states. He also served as the American History Lead Teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Throughout his twenty-three years as an educator, Jeff has served as Department Chair, AVID Coordinator, IBNA homofaber and Humanities Area Leader, Team Leader, and Principal designee, along with being FCA and Student Council sponsor. In addition, he has spent a great deal of time leading professional development opportunities for teachers throughout North America. Jeff received his Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science in 1989 and his Masters in Teaching in 1992, both from East Tennessee State University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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