The Tennessee General Assembly has unanimously passed the Teacher Bill of Rights, which proponents hope is the just the beginning of efforts to give teachers more backing in state law.
“We were pleased to help lead the effort in our state on behalf of educators and our members to secure rights on their behalf,” said JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee (ProEd), in a statement.
But Bowman gives the credit for the bill’s success to the legislators who advocated for it. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) and Rep. Jay Reedy (R-Erin). Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) was also very involved.
The bill comes amid concerns about a teacher shortage in Tennessee. There are various factors for the shortage, but one that is often cited is the undermining of teachers’ authority. Teachers face disrespect from students, sometimes even violence. Teachers have also raised concerns with regulations that have stifled their voices in decision-making.
The new legislation calls for teachers to be treated with respect and have their professional judgment respected. It also provides more support for when they have to defend themselves against violent students. In addition, it says that teachers should be able to review all instructional materials they use and not be pressured into spending personal money on supplies.
In late March, Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) spoke vigorously during a committee meeting about how student misbehavior is affecting teachers, according to WREG News Channel 3.
“There are teachers who are under siege in the classroom. We know that in their best efforts there are those who don’t respect them, so we can’t just stick our head in the sand and pretend that it’s not happening,” he said.
DeBerry delivered his comments the same week a teacher at Douglass High School in Memphis was attacked by a female student and had to go to the hospital.
Earlier in the legislative session, the bill was amended to remove a provision calling for teachers to be evaluated only by those with the same subject matter expertise. Also stricken was a provision prohibiting a teacher from being moved to another school based solely on test scores from state assessments. Both were deemed too unworkable to be implemented statewide.
Another issue related to teacher evaluations pertains to teachers in non-tested subject areas whose evaluation scores reflect the performance of students they do not teach, simply so that test scores can be a part of their record. Critics say this approach defies common sense.
“The state may wish to consider allowing local education agencies to use at least one alternative growth model that has been approved by the board of education for evaluation of teachers in non-tested grades and subjects,” said Bowman of ProEd. “The department of education must work to develop alternative student growth models for grade levels and subjects that do not have growth models. These are huge steps in addressing these concerns and cannot be ignored in the future.”