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Well, now to a challenge facing school districts across the U.S.: how to have a great teacher in every classroom. To that end, a few schools are trying something new: putting their best teachers in charge of multiple classrooms. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN visited a school in Nashville that's putting that model to work.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Ew.
BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: No eighth-grade classroom is immune from the occasional chaos, especially when someone - shall we say - breaks wind.
WHITNEY BRADLEY: It does smell like tacos.
FARMER: That's 28-year-old Whitney Bradley, the teacher, pinching her nose while spraying a can of air freshener.
BRADLEY: They're the most flatulent group of children.
FARMER: Bradley - which is what everyone calls her - knows how to get silly with her students, and they love her for it. She also knows when to get serious.
BRADLEY: Let's face it, we got six weeks and one spring break before TCAP.
FARMER: Students here at Bailey Middle in Nashville have struggled mightily on Tennessee's standardized test, known as TCAP. Tucked into the gentrifying neighborhoods of East Nashville, this school ranks as one of the state's lowest performers. When prepping students for the state's writing test, Bradley eases them into it, starting them off with a journaling exercise.
BRADLEY: 'Cause for struggling readers and writers, they might not know a lot about Shakespeare, and they might not know about, like, literary allusions, but they do know about themselves. So it's strategic. And they're writing, and they don't really know that they're about to crank out an essay.
FARMER: Bradley's tactics pay off. Her evaluations, which include test scores, place her in the top tier of teachers. And she's the kind of natural leader who's told - and even tempted - to become a principal. But education professor Barbara Stengel of nearby Vanderbilt University says Bradley is precisely the kind of talent schools should bend over backwards to keep as a teacher.
BARBARA STENGEL: How do we create career paths for teachers, fabulous classroom teachers, so that we don't have to make them administrators? They can still be in classrooms.
FARMER: Stengel advises Bailey Middle, which is one of several schools across the country that's in the trial phase of a big idea: putting top-notch teachers in charge of multiple classrooms.
BRADLEY: Ms. Branch is out, so I need you to go over the lessons plans for next week and tell me what you need from me.
FARMER: Here's how it works: Whitney Bradley acts like an infantry officer - in the trenches but in charge. Her phone rings every few minutes with a question or problem from another teacher in a nearby classroom. Between putting out fires, she teaches a sharp lesson on essay organization. Then she lets her student teacher take over the one-on-one instruction and she helps out next-door with a discipline issue. The young man has a cartoonish, but mostly naked, woman on his hoodie.
BRADLEY: If you wear a shirt that has boobies and bottoms on it again, I'm going to write you a referral, capeesh?
FARMER: As part of the new role, Bradley is paid more. But she's also judged not only on the performance of her students, but on those of the teachers she leads.
BRADLEY: Yes, the weight of this 100 students is on my shoulder, but I have a team that is strong enough where I say, hey guys, we got to get this done. This is what we need to do. They follow me.
ANN MARIE DVORAK: We talk about how we're equals, and we plan like we're equals.
FARMER: Ann Marie Dvorak is an apprentice teacher who works under Bradley.
DVORAK: And there are times obviously when, like, Bradley will have more of a responsibility. But honestly, I think, like, the philosophy behind it is so important.
FARMER: It's too early to tell if this model helps students. But Dvorak says the multi-classroom idea does make teaching feel a bit more like a profession with room to grow. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.
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