Grace

In response to the responses she received to this post about poverty, school funding, and teacher pay in light of the realities laid bare by COVID-19, MNEA President Amanda Kail posted a follow-up.

Here’s what she has to say:

What a hard and heavy year. In the fierceness of all the rage and bitterness, I will do my part. I will apologize. If you are a parent, and you took my most recent post to be about blaming you, or blaming people living in poverty for anything, I am deeply sorry. That was not my intent at all. I was trying to say that asking underpaid public employees and underfunded public institutions to carry all the weight of our society’s problems without ever being willing to provide the funding is a terrible way to solve problems. But I don’t want to cause anyone pain. I have spent way too much time listening to my fellow educators break down, to my friends and family reeling with grief, to my fellow Americans spewing hatred and death threats to want to be a source of one more bit of pain or suffering. I am sorry. Period. And even though all the rage and sorrow this conversation provokes makes me want to scream, I’m going to choose not to. And I need you to do something. I need you to stop shouting and listen too because educators are in a whole lot of pain right now, and the shouting is only making it worse. Please. I am asking you to just listen to a few things.

1. All of the studies saying schools are safe have the caveat that schools can be safe under particular conditions, namely small class sizes and good ventilation and also controlled community spread. At MNPS you can find the first two only at our more affluent schools but not at many others, and obviously community spread is anything but controlled. That is why, and let me be clear because I think there has been a great deal of confusion about this, MNEA is calling for small class sizes, updated ventilation, and expanded paid sick leave for all employees (not raises) as a condition for being back in buildings.

2. The virus is not impacting everyone the same. If you don’t know a teacher or student who has lost over a dozen family members to Covid, you aren’t talking to the right people. And when you argue with teachers and tell them they are being hysterical and uninformed about not wanting to be back in buildings, you are touching that raw place of pain and loss and what teachers hear you say is “you and your family’s lives are expendable for our convenience”. I really, really, really need you to hear that. Regardless of what you mean, that is what we hear.

3. So maybe a better way to approach the argument is to say “I’m so sorry you have lost many people you love, that you are doing your best to care for an elderly parent, or a chronically ill child or spouse, that you are terrified that you are placing them or yourself or your pregnancy at risk by being in a school building while also trying to teach in very trying circumstances. How can we ensure we have safe schools for all, so that you won’t have to worry?” And here- I’m going to also say use caution, because the reality is you would have to come up with a great deal of funding very quickly, funding that has not been there for years. Teachers know this. That’s why we respond so skeptically to questions like that. We know the state of our schools. It’s not theoretical to us at all. It’s like saying, “what can we do to make you feel safe about getting into this leaky boat in the middle of a hurricane that under normal circumstances you have to spend as much time bailing as rowing to get anywhere?” So if you are going to ask teachers that, maybe a better way to say it is “We realize now that underfunding public schools has left you in a very precarious position and we are sorry. We have have learned from this and are now going to focus our energy on getting our schools fully funded as quickly as possible so you can actually have safe conditions.”

4. One of the main reasons classes are now online is that we don’t have enough adults available to keep kids safe. We have so many people out sick or in quarantine that we literally don’t have enough people to keep a building open. That will continue to be the case as community spread rages. Two things you can do to help with that, join the TN physicians at Protect My Care to demand Governor Lee issue a statewide mask mandate- https://protectmycare.org/covid-email/?ms=WebsiteMenu and sign up to be a substitute teacher. We have a huge shortage of substitutes. So if you truly believe school buildings are safe and we need to be in there, I am asking you walk the talk and help keep buildings open. Here is where you can apply- https://www.mnps.org/substitute-application-process

5. Kids who are attending in-person classes are more likely to have their learning disrupted than those who are online. Every time a kid quarantines, they are on their own academically for the duration of the quarantine. Also, because of there being so many people out, many teachers are reporting to us that they are having to just put all of the students in the gym in order to just monitor students. Not optimal learning conditions to say the least.

6. If we are going to require teachers to be back in buildings, we need expanded, paid sick leave. Teachers don’t get to choose whether they are in-person or not. They can apply for accommodations, but that doesn’t guarantee they can teach virtually. Often there aren’t enough virtual positions available. This has been particularly hard for teachers with serious health problems like cancer who have already had to use their FMLA (and so have burned the sick leave that is how they get paid during FMLA). Right now there are many such teachers who have had to either go back into buildings even though their doctor said not to, or who had to go back out on FMLA but are not getting paid at all. This has created a tremendous hardship on teachers who are already struggling with serious health problems. If all teachers were virtual, these are teachers who could teach no problem. Also, some teachers have had to quarantine several times and have burned up their federal Covid leave. Now if they actually test positive, they will have to use their sick days. Also, there are many school employees who don’t get paid sick leave at all, such as part time employees or substitutes.

7. Let’s move conversations about equity from theoretical to actual and do the work. MNEA has been reaching out to groups of parents that face the greatest challenges with online learning, starting with immigrant families. The thing I hear the most often is that it’s very difficult to keep up with what is happening, especially with language barriers, so communication and also that internet access is still a big problem. Instead of getting mad at a severely underfunded school district for not providing enough technology or internet access, we need to think seriously about how we can push for internet access to all parts of the city. We need to ask what tools do our schools need to better communicate in the 100s of languages, and also to parents whose lives are constantly disrupted by poverty resulting in disconnected phones and evictions. Also, many of the parents have to work in unsafe conditions in factories, construction sites, warehouses etc. They are also worried about bringing the virus home to their families. They do not want to place educators, their fellow workers, at risk and they wish others were fighting similarly to protect their health and safety. One thing we can all do is join groups like https://www.workersdignity.org/ to advocate for safe working conditions, not only for educators, but for all workers in our communities. Can we do this Nashville? Can we stop shouting and actually do some work together to support students, families, and educators in our city? Making equity happen can’t be about yelling at others to sacrifice on behalf of everyone, especially when you are asking people who don’t have very much to begin with to do the sacrificing. Let’s work together to bring down community spread. Let’s work together to make sure we have the schools all children deserve. Let’s work together to make sure there is equitable investment in all parts of our city. And finally, let’s ensure all workers are kept safe during this dangerous time. And maybe most importantly, let’s act from a place of compassion, where we think to ask “are you ok?” before we condemn and ridicule someone in this fight. There are just way too many people who are not ok right now.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support$5 or more – makes publishing education news possible.

Don’t let your babies grow up to be teachers

A new report from PDK International, a professional association for teachers, indicates that most parents and teachers don’t want their kids to become teachers.

Here’s more:


“We ask parents whether they want their children to become teachers and when we started asking that question in 1969 there was good support from parents for having their children enter the teaching profession,” she tells CNBC Make It. “But when we asked the same question in 2018, for the first time, a majority of parents said they did not want their children to become teachers.”


“This year, when we asked teachers whether they wanted their own children to follow them into the profession, a majority of them said they did not,” says Richardson. “We do see a shift over time. As the teaching profession has become a lot more difficult, we’ve seen a lot less interest in the part of both the public and on the part of teachers in encouraging others to follow them into the profession.”

This report comes amid a growing national teacher shortage that has impacted Tennessee. In fact, Tennessee leads the nation in the number of inexperienced teachers in classrooms. This should come as no surprise to policymakers. As early as 2009, studies have noted Tennessee’s challenges with attracting and retaining teachers. Specifically, the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center noted:


Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

It’s also worth noting here that Tennessee lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to the rate of teacher pay raises:


Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

This seems like the perfect time to mention the Teacher Struggle. If you’ve got a Tennessee Teacher Struggle story to share, email me: andy@tnedreport.com

Teachers are leaving. Students aren’t entering teacher education programs to replace them. Parents are telling their kids NOT to become teachers. It’s almost like there’s a full flown crisis and all lawmakers want to do is pour more gas on the fire.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Your support makes publishing education news possible.

Shining a Light

Since I published “Eric’s Story” last week on the issue of the new (and troublesome) Kindergarten portfolio, I’ve received a number of emails offering further insight.

These messages indicate that our state’s system of evaluating teachers is broken and that those making decisions are both disconnected from and indifferent to what happens each and every day in classrooms around our state. I’ll be sharing these (while protecting the names of the senders) over the next few days. If you have an evaluation or portfolio story to share, please send it to andy@tnedreport.com

Never felt more defeated in my life…

First of all, thank you for shining a light on some of the realities of this portfolio debacle. It was clear to me in August of this past year that this particular portfolio process was going to not only consume classroom time, but would take in excess of over 40 hours of uncompensated personal time.

Back in the fall, with the inconsistencies between the rubric for the portfolio and the state mandated standards glaring at me, I knew this was probably the beginning of the end of my teaching career. My colleagues and I were very concerned and decided to reach out to our local and state officials to make them aware of what we could already see was a train wreck. This was met with some mixed reactions. When I shared with a local board member that this was the type of thing that will drive good educators out of the classroom, I was told that is the ultimate goal, to see public education crumble and was somewhat dismissive of what I was saying in a way that made me believe nothing could ever be done to fix it. That tune changed once we had the attention of several people on the state level who came to our school to hear a presentation by my grade level about the problems and possible solutions.

It was through this meeting that two of us were invited to the capital to speak on the matter. While we felt this was a step in the right direction we still had to continue working on the portfolio because there was no word on what would happen. During this part of the portfolio process, members of my team reached out to “specialists” assigned to our school who responded with contradictory information, or rudeness, or not at all.

We are all still waiting to hear an answer to a question one of our colleagues sent by email 4 months ago. There has been NO support, NO encouragement, and NO input from teachers as to how this portfolio could or should even work. The very teachers who have to live these demands on top of teaching 5 and 6 year olds to read and write and a million other big and small things that no one even acknowledges are the ones who should be making decisions but that is certainly not happening. I

can honestly say I have never felt more defeated in my life. Frankly, I’m tired of feeling this way. I work hard. I go above and beyond because that’s how I was raised. I give my all in teaching because I believe the students entrusted to me deserve the best I can give.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Do you have a story about what’s happening in Tennessee schools? Get in touch at andy@tnedreport.com

Your support keeps the education news coming!


 

Personally

It’s that time of year again. The time when the Tennessee Department of Education asks teachers for feedback so they can compile it and put into pretty graphs and ignore absolutely all of the responses.

Well, one teacher from Sumner County received an email about having not yet responded. Here it is:

My name is Isaiah Bailey, and I am part of a team working to amplify educators’ voices through various means, including the annual Tennessee Educator Survey. I consider it an honor to be so deeply engaged with advancing the interests of Tennessee educators, and look forward to continuing this work.

I have included your personalized Tennessee Educator Survey link here. I understand that you may have been asked to complete various other surveys around this time of year, and I apologize for any confusion this may have caused. Please note that this is the same survey for which you received an invitation from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance.

More than 31,000 educators around the state have already shared their thoughts on various issues including school climate, testing, professional learning, and more via this year’s survey. But given that the current teacher participation rate for Sumner County is 38 percent, it feels especially important that this survey incorporate more of the perspectives that only you and your colleagues in Sumner County can speak to.

At the same time, the current teacher participation rate for your school is 34%. If your school reaches at least 67 percent by the end of the day tomorrow, your staff will become eligible for a drawing that will award several grants of $500 to be used toward staff appreciation.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Since Mr. Bailey asked, this teacher responded:

Isaiah,
Thank you for personally reaching out. I have some thoughts I’d like to share.
First, as a veteran educator, I’m familiar with the adage that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
You are correct, I have not responded to the state’s survey. Your email indicates that a majority of my colleagues at my school and in my district have not responded, either.
Here’s why: The Tennessee Department of Education has demonstrated time and again that you don’t care.
Teachers speak out on testing, portfolios, RTI, adequate resources, and pay – and year after year we are ignored.
Teachers inquire about the validity of measures such as TVAAS and we are ignored.
Teachers clamor for schools staffed with guidance counselors and nurses to care for the children we teach, and we are ignored.
I’ve filled out this survey in the past, and nothing has changed.
Tennessee keeps building the plane while it is flying — this is unacceptable.
You asked for my personal perspective. Now, you have it.
I’d suggest you share it with your bosses, but I know that even if you did, nothing would change.
Now, I’ll go back to showing my students I care — about them, their interests, their futures.
It seems Mr. Bailey and the TDOE broke a key rule — don’t ask a question if you don’t actually want the answer.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Volunteer Strike?

Nashville teacher Amanda Kail offers thoughts on the current national climate with teacher strikes or other actions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona. She takes a moment to explain (from a teacher’s perspective) why this is happening and if it might happen in Tennessee.

Here are her posts:

If you are not a teacher, here are some things you might not know about why so many teachers are striking right now:

1. Most public employees, including teachers, have had their salaries frozen since 2008. In Nashville, step increases that are meant to keep up with inflation and encourage teachers to stick with the job were reintroduced only last year, and only then because MNEA stood up and fought for it. Even so, with the reintroduction of step raises (such as they are- in Nashville it takes a teacher with a MA 10 years to earn $50,000), teacher salaries are now barely above what they were 10 years ago, while cost of living and health care (because our legislature refused to expand medicaid) has sky-rocketed. In Oklahoma, many teachers were seeing the cost of their health insurance exceed their paycheck. This is why you are seeing teachers demand significant raises, not because we are greedy or want gold-plated glue sticks.

2. In states without strong teacher unions, state funding for public education has been continually slashed. In Oklahoma, many districts have been forced to go to a 4 day school week. Here in Nashville, a city with a booming economy that outpaces national averages, parents and teachers find themselves having to fight not only for school employee raises and basic supplies, but for funding school lunch programs and filters to remove lead from school drinking fountains. How can this be? Tennessee ranks 43rd in the nation for per pupil funding, and our state legislature which is so generous with its offers of guns and “In God We Trust” signs, only gives us about 60% of the money we are allocated in the state budget. So 60% of already drastically underfunded = hungry kids drinking leaded water in the “It City”. And guess who mostly makes up the difference for public school kids, who provides not only school supplies, but clothing, food, medical care, transportation, and even emergency housing? Teachers. Out of our own pockets. With our low and stagnant wages. This is why you are seeing teachers who have never attended a political rally before suddenly fighting so fiercely. We ARE doing it for the kids.

3. When teachers say we want “respect”, we don’t mean more cheap tchotchkes that say “we  teachers”, or more politicians to say, “thank you for all you do for our kids blah blah blah”. We mean that we want evaluation systems that are fair. That we want our professionalism to not be measured by tests that are deeply flawed and poorly planned (TN’s state tests have had major problems 3 years in a row, including one year that the test had to be abandoned mid-session). That we want leaders who have proven themselves in the classroom first, not hatched out of some neoliberal think-tank dedicated to robbing public schools for the DeVosses of the world. That we want to have the time to design lessons, grade, and teach without interruption by more unfunded mandates. It means that teachers who choose to work with low income students, students with disabilities, and immigrants should have the time, resources, and even more importantly, the trust that we know what we are doing, so we can fill in the foundational skills our students need in order to grow so that they can function on grade level, or beyond! It means giving us class sizes and case loads that are manageable. It means that our districts should consult us as experts in the field on curriculum design and proper assessment before throwing away millions on more pre-packed crap that will end up collecting dust in the closet somewhere. It means valuing veteran teachers with teaching degrees from respected universities enough to pay competitive wages and offer paths to leadership. Seriously, you can keep the tchotchkes.

4. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Trust teachers. We are fighting not only for our own babies, but yours. We stand up for EVERY kid in our community, and we see first hand what happens when communities refuse to do the same. If we say there is a problem, we mean it. Support your local teacher union. Advocate for your neighborhood school. Question why the schools that serve mostly poor kids often look so neglected. Demand that the political candidate of your choice fight to support public schools. Vote like every kid in your state is depending on you. Teachers should not have to put our whole careers on the line to show how badly things have gotten, but we will. So listen. And join us.

On whether there may be strikes in Tennessee:

I have had several people ask me about the possibility of Nashville teachers going on strike. Here is what I will say: Sometimes a walk-out doesn’t look like a picket line. It looks like the 100 or so vacancies our district can’t fill. It looks like increasing numbers of teachers leaving in their first and second years. It looks like veteran teachers deciding to leave the career they loved because they can’t take anymore of the insanity and nonsense wrought by testing. It looks like unstaffed after-school programs because most teachers have to work second and third jobs. It looks like less and less experienced teachers in the classroom, because no one else will put up with it.

Every time a teacher leaves, the students of that teacher lose ground. I’ve seen classrooms become revolving doors of inexperienced and overwhelmed teachers, giving way to subs or overloading other classrooms. Our kids deserve better.

Here is the thing. Teachers really can’t go on like this, and we are having less and less to lose. I think it is HIGH time that the city of Nashville, not just Dr. Joseph and the BOE put school employee raises as a number one priority. The 2% “raise” we are currently being offered barely covers inflation. It still takes teachers with an MA 10 years to reach $50,000, at the same time the administrators at Bransford make more than our city’s mayor. Something has got to give.

 

 

Teachers, what are your thoughts?

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Leaving Teaching After 18 Years

Educator turned blogger Mary Holden talks about why she left teaching after 18 years of service.

Here’s a small excerpt:

I knew being a teacher here would be rough. But we moved here anyway. And we love it here. It’s a great place to raise a family. We love the schools in Nashville. Great things are happening here in spite of all the BS. However, as a teacher, I tried to do my best while biting my tongue. But ultimately, I couldn’t do it.

I saw my colleagues, unlike me, seemingly more able to not worry about these issues so much. Maybe they were used to it? Or maybe they felt like I did but didn’t dare speak up. But I hated it. I hated that 50% of my evaluation was based on my students’ test scores. I hated that we talked about the damn tests almost more than anything else. This was definitely not the reason I became a teacher. I didn’t want to be a part of that culture. It really weighed on me.

READ MORE about Mary’s journey in (and ultimately out of) the classroom.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport