Teachers must not return to the 'good ol' days'

Friday, February 25, 2011

In the first week of the new legislative session, Rep. Debra Maggart (House District 45) and Sen. Dolores Gresham (Senate District 26) have filed two bills that strike at the hearts of Tennessee's teachers.

The Maggart bill (HB 130), if passed and signed into law, will end 32 years of teacher negotiations in this state. For over 100 years, before the Educators Professional Negotiations Act became law, teacher compensation was at the whim of school superintendents and local boards of education. Men were paid more than women. Caucasian teachers were paid more than African-American teachers. Secondary school teachers were paid more than elementary teachers, and friends of the "right people" were routinely paid more than their peers. There was no fair and equitable salary schedule. Negotiations changed that.

The Gresham bill (SB 102) would replace the ability of teachers to select the teacher representatives to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System Board of Trustees with appointments by the Speakers of the Senate and House of Representatives. Teachers who contribute to the system would have no voice in determining who represents them on their retirement board. Instead, politicians who are not members of the system would make that determination.

As of this writing, no bills have been filed to support teachers in getting the job done in the classroom. Nothing has been introduced that would enhance teaching and learning in our schools and classrooms. Everything talked about so far is about restrictions and loss. It is ironic that this comes at a time when teachers are asked to work harder and smarter in order to help our students achieve ever more rigorous standards. All of us recall a period in our lives that we term the good old days. When we look closely, however, we realize those good old days never really were. In the fictional good old days, teachers had even lower salaries, no voice in determining education policy and only a fraction of boys and girls graduated from high school compared to today. Teachers will not sit still while some legislators attempt to take the teaching profession and public education back to a simpler but less effective time.

Media reports indicate Gov. Bill Haslam intends to make public education a key component of his agenda. Our experience with the former mayor of Knoxville has shown him to be a thoughtful man. We believe he wants to make a positive difference in public education and the lives of all Tennesseans. We will be meeting with the governor to understand what he wants to accomplish, and we will let him know what teachers believe will be helpful in educating Tennessee's students. We anticipate working with Gov. Haslam to improve our public schools. Some legislators appear to be preparing to pass anti-teacher and anti-TEA legislation because they think they can. They suggest it will return us to the good old days. However, laws with no socially redeeming value are inherently destructive and represent abuses of discretion and power. Tennessee's teachers will not be silenced. TEA will rise to fight to protect the hard-won rights some misguided forces seem willing to eliminate.

The Tennessee Education Association is the state's largest professional organization representing over 52,000 elementary and secondary teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become teachers.