Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Teachers' Bill of Rights

Please excuse me for a brief moment while I jump up and down in moderated excitement. There is a bill pending in the state legislature so lathered with common sense that it became easily recognizable from many of the other bills that will be discussed this session (i.e. voucher bill, bathroom bill, marriage bill, run over protesters with your car bill, etc.).

Senator Mark Green of Clarksville and Representative Jay D. Reedy of Erin have co-introduced a bill that is appropriately nicknamed “The Teachers’ Bill of Rights.” If SB0014/HB1074 passes, it will send a clear message to all educators that the legislature has our collective backs. The much-needed byproduct of this bill is that it should help increase enrollment in teacher prep programs at our state universities. Tennessee is at the beginnings of what will become a severe teacher shortage unless drastic measures are taken immediately. Governor Haslam’s proposal to increase education funding will certainly help as will this Teachers’ Bill of Rights.

Here is the full text of the bill: “This bill creates a list of rights and protections for educators. Under this bill, every ‘educator,’ meaning any teacher, principal, supervisor or other individual required by law to hold a valid license of qualification for employment in the public schools of this state, has the right to: (1) Act upon the educator's own conscience, so long as the educator does not attempt to proselytize students, disrupt the educational process, or act as a potential threat to student safety; (2) Report any errant, offensive, or abusive content or behavior of students to school officials or appropriate agencies; (3) Provide a safe classroom and school; (4) Defend themselves and their students from physical violence or harm; (5) Share information regarding a student's education experience, health, or safety with the student's parent or legal guardian, unless prohibited by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA); and (6) Review all materials brought into the educator's classroom or utilized with their students. This bill specifies that an educator must not be expected to waive this particular right.

This bill further provides that an educator is not: (1) Required to spend the educator's personal money to appropriately equip a classroom; (2) Evaluated by professionals, under the teacher evaluation advisory committee, without the same subject matter expertise as the educator; (3) Evaluated based on the performance of students whom the educator has never taught; or (4) Relocated to a different school based solely on test scores from state mandated assessments.”

In my view, the most impactful elements of the Teachers’ Bill of Rights are the last four items. Teachers have been saying for decades that we shouldn’t be expected to purchase our own school supplies. No other profession does that. Additionally, it makes much-needed changes to the evaluation system. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the notion that we should be evaluated by other educators with the same expertise. While good teaching is good teaching, there are content-specific strategies that only experts in that subject would truly be able to appreciate fully. Both the Coffee County Education Association and the Tennessee Education Association support this bill.

As this bill moves forward and hopefully becomes law, I briefly want to address a few concerns I have with it as it is currently written. The language in the bill is vague in parts, and needs clarity. For example, what, exactly, does it mean to provide “a safe classroom and school”? This can be misconstrued in many unintended ways. Will this open the door for teachers to carry weapons into their classrooms? If so, then it will create a dangerous and deadly precedent. Also, who will pick up the slack when teachers need classroom supplies and will no longer be expected to buy the supplies themselves? If this responsibility falls on local governments, it could result in unintended tax increases. The state has a surplus of money, and it should be forthcoming in funding classroom supplies. Further, I wonder what enforcement mechanisms will be in place when--not if--these laws are broken. These issues need to be worked out before this bill becomes law. In the meantime, I commend Sen. Green and Rep. Reedy for standing up for teachers and introducing common sense legislation that will actually improve the teaching profession. Please take the time to call them or tweet them your support for this bill!

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