On August 14th, Governor Bill Haslam sent a “Welcome Back” letter to teachers across the state. In the letter, he thanked teachers for their hard work in helping Tennessee improve its student achievement scores. He said he appreciated what they did for Tennessee students every day.
Apparently, some teachers haven’t forgotten that this is the same Bill Haslam who promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay in October of 2013 and included a teacher pay raise in his 2014 budget address … only to break that promise in April.
Some teachers sent responses directly back to Haslam. And some of those same teachers sent their responses to TN Ed Report under the condition we keep their names anonymous. Here are some of the responses we received:
Teacher Response #1:
I appreciate your attempt to understand the inner workings of a classroom and appreciate your words of appreciation for those of us who chose to serve others through teaching. However, I am highly disappointed at the turn of events in which you announced that teachers would not receive pay raises. We already make much less than other TN State employees and much less than teachers of other states.
It is easy to make promises and to break them:
I am personally insulted in your lack of support for the teaching profession. My colleagues and I work hard for the families we serve. A normal day for most of us is 7:45 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Though we are only paid to work 8:00 until 3:15, our jobs cannot be completed in those hours. Many times we take student work home with us and are constantly looking for ways to improve our teaching on our own time.
Teachers are generally told “no one teaches for the money”. TRUE, but teachers never expected to be put on the “budget cutting” chopping block each time raises are considered. We feel betrayed with popular campaign promises and rhetoric.
In closing, make no mistake that our hard work is not completed for you or any elected official. Our hard work is for the children we PROMISED to educate when we accepted our jobs. Your letter of appreciation proves that WE have not failed those who have put their trust
in us, including you.
Teacher Response #2
Please tell the PR firm that suggested you send these letters that we teachers are
well educated and therefore insulted that they would believe a letter full of
empty words could ever make up for what you and your administration have done
and are doing to ensure the destruction of public education in Tennessee.
Teaching is more than a job to me. Teaching is my calling. I sincerely love all of my
students and work tirelessly for them. I most often work six full days a week
to ensure that they have exactly what they need to succeed. I spend hundreds
sometimes more than a thousand dollars of my own limited income every year to
make sure that their needs are met. I was always proud to be a teacher but, not
so much these days. Mostly these days my heart aches for my children. I spend many
hours crying for them. Your administration has stripped our classrooms of all
joy. Teacher morale is low because we are working in hostile conditions.
Finally, please keep your empty words. This letter is too little, too late.
Teacher Response #3
I am in receipt of your letter of August 14, 2014.
I appreciate the welcome back to school. And it is nice to hear the words “thank you.”
In your letter, you note that Tennessee is the fastest improving state in the nation in terms of student achievement. You attribute this success directly to teachers.
I seem to remember that in October of 2013, you also promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in teacher pay — an acknowledgement of the hard work so many Tennessee teachers are doing every single day.
Your budget, proposed in early 2014, also indicated at least a nominal raise for teachers was forthcoming.
Then, in April, you abandoned that promise. When the state revenue picture changed, the budget was balanced on the backs of teachers. Not only did your new budget take away promised raises for teachers, but it also reduced BEP funding coming to school districts. Now, teachers are being asked to do more with less. And students suffer.
Your words ring hollow when your actions make it clear that teachers don’t matter. That our schools can wait just one more year for the resources students need to succeed.
As for your “thank you” for the work I do, I’d note that I can’t send it to the bank to pay my mortgage. A thank you isn’t going to fix my car when it needs repair. When the price of groceries goes up, I can’t simply use your thank you letter to cover the increase. And when my health insurance premium inevitably rises in January, your letter won’t put money back in my paycheck to cover the cost.
The raise you promised but failed to deliver would have helped with all of these things. But your letter does nothing but remind me that you say nice words and shortchange our schools.
In my classroom, I place a high value on integrity. That means doing what you say you’re going to do. On that scale, sir, you rate an F.
We received copies of other responses that mentioned the poor communication style of Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and the loss of collective bargaining rights. While teachers may not have a viable alternative to Haslam on the ballot in November, those sending us copies of their responses made it clear they won’t be supporting Haslam.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport