Larry Proffitt is a middle school teacher and a baseball coach. He’s also on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Education Association.
He’s a friendly guy, with the enthusiasm and energy indicative of someone who spends his days relating to 11-14 year-olds.
Proffitt says that when he first got involved in TEA, he appreciated the organization because when he was down, he could also go to a TEA meeting and get a hug.
Now, he says, TEA needs a hug.
The organization has been battered recently, losing collective bargaining early in Governor Bill Haslam’s tenure.
Since then, Tennessee teachers have faced the implementation of new evaluations brought on by the Race to the Top win under Governor Phil Bredesen. While TEA leaders signed-off on the provisions of RTTT, they now say the implementation process hasn’t gone as planned. And that teachers are losing their voice on policies that impact them.
Proffitt is sensitive to this and says the organization needs to branch out. It’s a new day in Tennessee politics and TEA needs to try new collaborations, according to Proffitt.
Profitt is also a member of the BATs, short for Badass Teachers Association. It’s a national group with a strong Tennessee presence that is focused on calling attention to the most egregious of education policies. BATs don’t pull punches. Instead, they are relentless in their pursuit of what they believe is sound education policy. According to Proffitt, it’s tough to find sound policy among those currently making the rules in Tennessee. He says he spent every snow day this past winter at the legislature, advocating for positive education policy – and mostly, educating legislators on what’s gone wrong in the current education environment.
Proffitt is not following the typical path to the TEA Presidency. Historically, a member of the Board of Directors of TEA gets elected to the position of Vice President. That individual then runs for President (usually unopposed) after serving under the organization’s President. The current VP is Barbara Gray, and she is running for TEA President, too. Proffitt is undeterred by the typical process. He’s running and running hard. He has a very active social media presence and he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind.
He’s also worked side-by-side with parents and citizen lobbyists like those in TREE — Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence. TREE opposes vouchers and a state charter school authorizer and has been active in the past two legislative sessions voicing concerns over these and other popular tenets of the current education reform movement.
Proffitt is not openly critical of those in current leadership at TEA. Instead, he says TEA must expand its vision. They must collaborate with outside groups and gain public support. They must provide a reason for teachers to join again, even without the lever of collective bargaining.
The TEA President is chosen by members of the organization’s Representative Assembly. Those delegates are chosen at the local level. Proffitt indicated about 800 or so TEA members will decide on the organization’s next President. He’s hopeful about his chances, even if he’s ruffling feathers along the way.
“If the teachers I talk to from around the state every single day are talking to their delegates, I have a shot at this,” he said. “And if not, I’ve learned a lot in the process.”
Those who support his candidacy say he’s the “Proffitt who can’t be bought or sold.” The play on words is indicative of his outside-the-box candidacy and his willingness to speak out, even when it’s not the most popular thing to do.
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