Send me to Nashville and I will fight for public education.
A good public education system is the foundation of our society. Everyone has a memory of a teacher that challenged and inspired them, who listened and made them feel important. Teachers spend more time with our children than anyone else through their formative years. These people are trained professionals that work tirelessly to teach and inspire our children. My wife, Sue, was a teacher and I personally witnessed how hard she worked to give her students the very best and how much she cared about their success.
In Tennessee, our teachers often do not feel like the respected professionals they are. The Tennessee Legislature in 2011 and 2012 took away teachers’ right to bargain with their local school boards. The yearly step raises that rewarded faithful and effective service were stripped away along with the protection of tenure.
These losses to the profession are coupled with some other troubling trends in public education across the state. Rural districts struggle to find and retain well-qualified teachers especially in fields such as foreign language, science, art, and math, along with technical fields like computer science or carpentry.
New teachers are leaving the profession at concerning rates, with some Tennessee school districts losing as many as half their new teachers within their first three years. These leaving teachers say the pay does not compensate them for the type of stress they experience in the current education environment. We see these teacher shortages across the state, but especially in rural communities like ours.
This hurts our students, and ultimately our communities. We miss out on the opportunities and prosperity generated by a well educated workforce. Increased teacher pay in rural communities will attract and keep the best educators we can for our children.
In addition to our concerns about pay, I hear from teachers and students about the burden and stress of high-stakes testing. Our teachers are not afraid of accountability, but standardized testing has proven to be a poor measure of both teacher effectiveness and student growth. The implementation of these aggressive assessment programs has been one disaster after the other, all at taxpayer expense.
Our leaders are failing us. They hired expensive out-of-state testing vendors who couldn’t fulfill their contracts again and again. They support confusing and burdensome classroom evaluation methods that leave teachers feeling defensive rather than supported. The message from the people I meet is clear: our teachers, parents, and most importantly students want less testing, and more teaching.
In spite of these issues in Tennessee schools, we have wonderful educators who want to be successful in preparing our young people for healthy, happy, and productive lives. There are things we can do to stand up for these good people and for quality public education for all our children.
State lawmakers need to make rural education a top priority in the next legislative session. Our students are underserved and rural families are tired of being ignored.