By Gera Summerford
A 2012 survey of Tennessee voters reveals that while people believe their local schools are strong, quality schools, they do not feel the same way about the schools outside their community. Is this a direct result of the constant stream of negative rhetoric coming out of Nashville from some state legislators and our own Department of Education?
Every new "reform" effort from our state government starts with the fundamental premise that Tennessee public schools are bad. People hear this, and while they know it isn't true of their local schools, they think it must be true elsewhere in the state.
As a 30-year teacher in Tennessee, I recognize there are flaws with our education system, but I also know there are small miracles happening in our schools every day. The fact that Tennessee is 44th in the nation in spending per student, yet our graduation rate is in the top 10 nationwide tells us there are a lot of things going well in public education.
Tennessee teachers and local school districts are maximizing every dollar available to ensure students receive the quality education they deserve. It is time for Tennesseans to actively support and protect our children's education. It is time to rally around our schools and educators. It is time to stand up to the negative rhetoric and tell our state leaders, "Enough!"
The state's latest move to drastically change the way teachers are paid is yet another unproven theory on how to "fix" public schools. The overall effect of this new plan is a first-ever lowering of state requirements for teacher salaries. Fortunately, state law protects current teachers from receiving a pay cut. As a result, while no teacher will see a cut in their current salary, they may also never see another raise, resulting in dramatically decreased lifetime earnings and a failure to realize minimal cost-of-living increases.
When determining salary, why would the state disregard the experience and education level of the people who teach our children? In fact, how can we have strong school systems if we don't demonstrate by our policies that we value education? I fear that this devaluation of experience and education will create constant turnover among teachers in a school. Such instability is never healthy for our students, our schools or our communities.
Our students' futures depend on our ability to attract and retain quality, committed educators. To do that, teachers need your help putting an end to the constant attacks on public schools and our profession.
It is time we stand together as Tennesseans to support our public schools and recognize the great things happening in our schools every day. Together we can stop the damaging education "reform" pushed by our state leaders. Instead of trying to destroy public education, let's focus on the many things going right and determine how to leverage those into further success for Tennessee students and public schools.
Gera Summerford is a high school math teacher from Sevier County who currently serves as president of the Tennessee Education Association. TEA is the state's largest professional organization representing more than 46,000 elementary and secondary teachers, school administrators, education support professionals, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become teachers.