Nashville Teachers’ Fight For Respect Began With A March, Now They’re Walkin’

Volume and Light is a blog focused on the families that invest in Nashville public education’s promise. The blog’s owner [meeee] is a Black woman, former public school student, parent, and staffer whose lens is informed by her experiences.

I write, advocate, and work for families whose voices are forced into the void. I do these things because 30 years of personal and professional experience has revealed that families are the least respected constituents in the education ecosystem.

Committed to sharing information with my target audience, I’ve spent the past few days mining 2019 TNReady results published [just] last week. Thirty-seven Metro Schools have been crowned with the Reward School status, a state designation for schools that improved in student/group achievement and growth. While I am thrilled for these schools and the increase of 15 schools to the list, there is another story waiting to be told. I intend to tell it. But first, something else…

TFW No Math Teachers?

Late Monday night, while wrangling with the massive data files provided by the state of Tennessee Department of Education, someone pinged me with a link to the story “Pearl-Cohn Has No Math Teachers.” My immediate response was, “are you f#&%ing kidding me?” and instantly pivoted from thinking about how to distill the state’s data into digestible bits for families to teacher migration or as the experts call it, teacher retention.

If I wasn’t fully committed to the issue, a tweet from Bob Jones got my undivided attention.

For a brief period of time, I reasoned with myself that this issue doesn’t need my voice. That there is no shortage of really smart people working to solve and amplify the increasingly growing issue of teacher retention, and local blogger TC Weber could build a paper mansion with all of the ink dedicated to the plight and flight of teachers in the city. I decided to join the fray because without good teachers, what’s the point of school?

They Tried To Tell Us

Last spring, teachers shot out from every corner of the county in their #Red4Ed shirts attending school board budget hearings and an endless number of Metro Council meetings. Educators, veteran and brand new, lined the steps of the Metro Courthouse to plead their case, to beg for a fully-funded budget, a moral budget as they called it. They marched for a salary commensurate with their worth and work and one better suited to respond to the astronomical cost of living in Nashville.

They Tried to Show Us

Last May, teachers worked around Tennessee’s “no strike” policy by staging a three-day sick out in response to Mayor David Briley’s budget. Nearly one thousand teachers, one-fifth of Nashville’s teaching force called out for “a variety of reasons, including personal illness, family illness, professional leave, personal leave and bereavement” according to the district’s spokeswoman. McGavock High School, the city’s largest school with 107 classroom teachers, lost 87 teachers to the sick out. As the saying goes, “power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Message Received

Look, no matter your (or my) thoughts on what a fully-funded budget really means or your (or my) feelings on teachers staying home on a school day in protest, the teachers of this city made clear their demands and the consequences for ignoring them. In a political twist in response to teacher protests, the mayor met with district leadership and “found” money for pay raises for teachers. Crisis averted, teachers appeased. Right?

That was a couple of months ago.

Now we find ourselves three weeks into the school year and Pearl-Cohn can’t find math teachers. Stratford High School needs English teachers. The district reported a shortage of 94 teachers at the start of the year, but those close to the district look sideways at that number. Teachers are walking and have been for some time. Those that haven’t walked are still demanding respect in the form of dollars.

Now What?

Take a stroll through Edu-Twitter and you will discover thousands of educators, policy wonks, and advocates debating/proselytizing/observing hundreds of education issues, each tweeter with their own solutions. Education and schooling are complex. However, the issue of keeping great teachers happy is pretty damn simple. Pay them. Pay them well.

Though I believe parents are the least valued stakeholder in the education landscape, public school teachers are the most undervalued professionals in our society.

I’ll end with President Barack Obama’s salute to his fifth-grade teacher:

“The first time she called on me, I wished she hadn’t. In fact, I wished I were just about anywhere else but at that desk, in that room of children staring at me. But over the course of that year, Ms. Hefty taught me that I had something to say — not in spite of my differences, but because of them. She made every single student in that class feel special.

“She reinforced that essential value of empathy that my mother and my grandparents had taught me. That is something that I carry with me every day as President. This is the simple and undeniable power of a good teacher,

2 thoughts on “Nashville Teachers’ Fight For Respect Began With A March, Now They’re Walkin’

  1. Sadly, the only mayor candidate who supported our city council’s failed-by-one vote to sustainably address teacher pay… lost with less than 20% of the vote. Our MNPS adminsitration seems incapable of doing anything that might help Nashville taxpayers see the value in our public education. We cling to lotteries, to slicing and dicing kids between schools, and we wonder why families move to surrounding counties with guaranteed pathways through schools committed to educating every child. We wonder why families with their “Sorry, you lose again” lottery letters vote no to property tax bumps.

    Before you get excited about the recent score results, please watch the school board meeting where Dr. Changas presented them. He is sober and realistic. Because we have no idea why the scores bumped up a bit, and the truth of the matter is that the math could send them down again next year. These little undulations are not “success” vs “failure” in our school system. The real problem is teachers leaving, kids not being in front of qualified teachers. I promise that will have far more impact on scores in the coming year, than how much we cheer or deride the latest fake-news scores from our state.


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