The State of Education in Tennessee: Chaos, Collective Bargaining for Teachers

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This article is part of our new feature “State of Education” where we hear what is going on in each state around the country, from an educator in that state.  If you would like to write about your state, contact us at!

The state of education in Tennessee is chaotic, at best. We are in a state of mind that I liken to terroristic confusion. Let me explain what I mean. After an act of terrorism, the masses are confused and reactionary. People do not often make decisions based on sound judgments; they act more out of emotion. In my opinion, as a product of public schools and as a public school teacher, education in Tennessee does not look good because the decisions are not made based on sound judgments. My opinions are based on legislation passed in Tennessee over the past two years. Two major laws have been passed by our majority conservative legislature and this does not speak well for educators like me.  Tennessee teachers have lost our right to collective bargaining, and we have to increase the amount of money we contribute to our pension.
Collective bargaining, commonly misnamed unions, has been given a bad name in our country. I am not sure about other areas in the state, but in Memphis, we have a professional association. That association is responsible for brokering a collective bargaining agreement.  By definition of, “A collective bargaining agreement is the ultimate goal of the collective bargaining process. Typically, the agreement establishes wages, hours, promotions, benefits, and other employment terms as well as procedures for handling disputes arising under it.” In 2012, the State of Tennessee legislature declared that collective bargaining was the enemy and it was assassinated like an international terrorist. Obliterated was not only our say in how we are treated as professionals, but also our perceived worth as educators. Along with that assassination came a new evaluation process and a move toward basing teacher pay on standardized test performance and ever-changing performance standards; all of this without support or training to help teachers improve.
To add insult to injury, this legislative session has decided that teachers hired after 2014 have to contribute more to their pension plan. I won’t confuse you with the numbers, but the amount contributed by the state employee has increased as well as the age of potential pay out. With the average teacher salary just under $46,000 and health insurance prices rising, there is little room to contribute more to the pension plan. Sounds like a lot of teachers will be taking on more outside jobs to make ends meet in our present economy.
More chaos is evident on the local levels of education, especially in Memphis City and Shelby County Schools. Those events are either the aftershock of the state’s terroristic confusion, or perhaps they were precipitating events. (The state of education in my city is another article.) As in all tragedies, there are casualties. Too bad those casualties are our innocent students and our hard-working teachers.
© 2015 The Educator’s Room™

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