My name is Alex Bohan. I am 26, a college graduate, and I am a Tennessee Democrat.
I had, at one point in my recent life, made plans to be a professional educator. I took my classes, received high marks in all of them, and had wonderful recommendations from a variety of very capable and inspiring professors. I learned and honed my craft into a very fine skill and spent a great deal of time (and money) in doing so. I love teaching, and I thoroughly enjoy teaching children. And yet, I cannot stomach the thought of teaching in a Tennessee public school system.
It has nothing to do with the salary, mind you. Teachers for generations have always known that there is no great monetary fortune to be reaped from the long hours put into teaching. For the record, here’s a link so that everyone can see what a Tennessee teacher makes. It is very much in the dialogue at the political levels.
Remember Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s “union-busting” bill in 2011 that Republicans passed, despite serious Democratic opposition? While a federal judge eventually struck the law down, it set a terrible precedent. Less than two weeks after Wisconsin’s law was initially passed, a similar bill was set into motion in the Tennessee General Assembly.
The importance of a teacher’s union cannot be understated. It exists so that the interests of all educators across the state, in the form of a fair salary, fair benefits and an organized representative body ready and willing to work with the State Board of Education on how to best educate our children, cam be met. It exists so that teachers can focus on what they do best: educating children.
And then there are issues at the national level. I hear the words “teacher accountability” often. The notion that increasing teacher accountability will somehow benefit students is popular and it is often repeated by politicians. The No Child Left Behind Act is born of that notion, and it holds educators accountable for their students by the standardized test scores that are reported at the end of each school year.
But consider what teachers do in response. No real educating occurs in the classrooms these days. The term within teachers’ circles is that they “teach to the test” and I assure you that is exactly what it is. Students are taught only what shows up on that test (in Tennessee’s case, it’s the TCAP test). There is simply no time during the school year to teach anything else.
In summation, there is no incentive to teach in this state. With a legislature that seems all but too eager to throw fair compensation to teachers out of the window, with a salary that has been, is, and will always be very poor, and with national dialogue choosing to ignore the fact that teachers can only be accountable for so much, what attracts our best and brightest to our public school classrooms?
Alex Bohan is a MTSU graduate living in Nashville. He currently makes a living tutoring students in the Nashville area, extreme couponing with his fiancee, and promoting Bonnaroo for the good karma.