We the people

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By Dennis Powers

A Teacher Affects Eternity


One of my favorite quotes about educators is by the late historian, Henry B. Adams, who once said, “A teacher affects eternity - he can never tell where his influence stops.”  Of course, “he” and “his” are gender-neutral.

What he said was true! From grade 1 to 12, (revealing my age, there was not even a “K” back in my day, much less a pre-K), I can remember every teacher I ever had in school and while some were better than others, I dare say that I cannot remember an ineffective one. 

All were hard-working, professional people who devoted much of their time assisting us and getting to know us individually. They also knew our families and knew of any dire situations that children were dealing with at home that might carry over in their schoolwork. 

I am honored to serve on the Education Committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives – a committee I requested to serve on because I believe education is the fundamental way to change the lives of our children, prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow and bring more jobs to Tennessee by providing a better-equipped workforce. I have also had the privilege of being a substitute teacher in K-12 and teaching a college algebra class and best of all - being married to a teacher/educator.

Teachers have one of the most difficult and important jobs in the world.  I don’t know of a Republican, Democrat or Independent who doesn’t agree with that statement or who wants to “attack” teachers. We all know that teaching is the profession that teaches all other professions and I believe we should treat teachers like the professionals they are.

That is why I feel compelled to give an update what is going in the Legislature regarding education. Without being bill-specific because there are 2,000 bills that have been filed, I want to provide information on what is being proposed, keeping in mind that many of the bills will be amended in committees or on the house floor.

One of the proposed bills involves collective bargaining. The “equal access” amendment to the bill allows any professional employees’ organization to represent the teachers or they may choose no representation at all, i.e. it would give unions, professional teachers associations, etc., all equal access that is now only permitted to one group.

In 1978, the Legislature authorized teacher collective bargaining.  Teachers in 92 of the state’s 136 school districts have decided to engage in collective bargaining regarding salary and benefits. 

However, according to our comptroller’s office most recent weighted salary reports, teachers in systems that are not involved in collective bargaining on average make more in salary and benefits than those in systems involved in collective bargaining. Student achievement is also higher in non-negotiating systems according to data from Tennessee Department of Education ‘Report Card’.

No one is sure what the final version of the bill will look like, but it was introduced to empower teachers by giving all of them direct access to the board of education and management if they want, rather going through a third-party for representation. Most teachers have the confidence to negotiate and the knowledge of their skills that make them attractive to their employers.

Attack on teachers? 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Higher salaries, direct access and higher student achievement – these are the intentions of the bill. So, the bill is meant to be pro-teacher, pro-student legislation.

Since Tennessee is a “right to work” state, another aspect of the bill is to level the playing field for public-sector employees.  Also, legislators want to give bonuses to high-performing teachers, which are currently prohibited by collective bargaining.

The new tenure legislation moves tenure for educators from three to five years and links the tenure privilege to revised performance evaluations.  Teachers that already have tenure are “grandfathered-in.” 

For those without acquired tenure by July 1, 2011, it would also include a probationary period for teachers if they go two years with unsatisfactory results. They can regain their tenure after two years of satisfactory results. Great teachers want to teach with other great teachers and this bill is meant to “raise the bar” in achieving tenure.

Public charter schools are also a part of the governor’s education reform package. Charter schools are granted the right to operate with their own management and choose their teachers, curriculum and length of school days.  In exchange, they must show test gains to stay open.

With the help of parents, teachers, principles, school boards, directors and legislators, we can take Tennessee from a bottom ten ranking in education to a Top 10. If we are all not a part of the solution in education, we will be part of the problem.

Dennis Powers is the Tennessee State Representative from the 36th House District which includes Campbell and Union Counties. Please send comments to rep.dennis.powers@capitol.tn.gov.