Rallies at the capital, letters to the editor and informational sessions with local legislators, Tennessee teachers say they are feeling the heat from 18 pieces of legislation proposed by the state’s general assembly this year.
Local teachers say they feel “under attack” by these proposals they claim are not targeted at improving education.
“If you take away our right to collectively bargain, you are essentially taking away our right to speak,” one local teacher told State Rep. Andy Holt during an informative session held at Westview High School on Friday.
The purpose of the meeting between the state representative and local educators was to send him a message to take to the capital that teachers were not in favor of the 18 proposed bills seemingly targeted at educators, not education, across the state.
“If this would take away your right to bargain your contract, I would burn it in front of you,” Holt shared.
Holt added that the sponsors of the bill that would eliminate collective bargaining for educators “intended” to take away the TEA’s right to negotiate for teachers.
But, as many teachers quickly pointed out, the bill does not offer any wording to that effect or even mention the TEA.
“We allow our entire staff to give an opinion. When we sit down at the table for negotiations, TEA is not with us. When we negotiate, we are a part of a bargaining unit, as is cited in this bill,” another local teacher said.
“I think we have been consistent as a board. We have a good relationship with our teachers. We want their input. We probably have some teachers that have been left out of the bargaining process because they are not TEA members,” Weakley County Director of Schools Randy Frazier later told The Press.
Frazier added that 54 percent of educators in the county were actually a part of the TEA.
As one teacher pointed out to Holt during Friday’s session, numbers are not as telling as one may think.
“Before you assume that teachers aren’t members of TEA because they don’t like it, consider that everyone has their own, different reason. It’s not just because they don’t like unions,” one teacher shared.
Members of TEA are also members of the NEA, which offers educators liability insurance and paid counsel if ever needed.
If the proposed legislation becomes law this year, educators will not be able to collectively bargain with local school boards for pay and benefits as they have done in the past.
Another piece of legislation that sparked emotion among local educators was a proposal to change the teacher tenure duration from three years to five years.
“What I want to know is how public education would be improved through this tenure law?” a local educator asked of Holt.
“Tenure is a provision given to teachers or people in education. It is a form of protection and we readily acknowledge that it keeps people in a job when they might not be qualified. There are not many other jobs that people can go to and be protected,” Holt responded.
“Tenure does not protect incompetency or inaccuracy if the process is applied correctly,” a local teacher noted.
“None of us were given tenure. We earned tenure,” a statement that was met with applause from the local educators.
“If the administrators are not doing their job, then don’t punish me for it. Punish them and if the teachers are not doing their job, get rid of them,” another teacher noted.
“No one is against change – change that is good for the students. I look at these bills and I don’t see that. Why are we not talking about things that build our schools up and not tearing them down. We need for our legislators to clearly define these bills so that there are no gray areas and we all read and understand them to mean the same thing,” a local teacher concluded.