One of the primary goals of this blog has always been to amplify the voice of teachers. Amanda Kail is one of the most dedicated teachers you’ll ever meet. She’s one of those people who you sometimes have to stand back and marvel at, because their energy seems inexhaustible and their depth of knowledge boundless. She is a fair-minded individual, endlessly in pursuit of solutions over fixing blame. As an EL instructor, she has first hand knowledge of the many challenges our students face.
Several years ago, the state of Tennessee did away with the right for teachers, and the union that represents them, to engage in collective bargaining. A new process was implemented called collaborative conferencing. Collaborative conferencing is an elaborate undertaking with a lot of rules. Rules that are arguably set up to reduce the power of the teacher’s union as much as they are to create a quality working environment, with fair compensation, for teachers.
MNPS undertook the collaborative conferencing process last year after securing the required number of signatures. A dedicated team met and hashed out details. Those details were to form the basis of a MOU that was scheduled to be voted on by the MNPS school board at last night’s meeting. That didn’t happen.
The words below are Kail’s from her Facebook page, and I felt they were worthy of a wider audience:
Our union finished negotiations for teacher MOUs in October. Last night was the first time our school board had even seen the completed document. In fact, it has yet to be sent to the budget committee. To say that I and other teachers who gave up considerable time and energy to bring and win the vote to negotiate, not to mention undertake the actual negotiations are frustrated is an understatement. In five months, the document that spells out our salary and working conditions was not enough of a priority to the district to even merit reading. A document that was already agreed to by the management’s own team may have to, in Dr. Joseph’s words, “go back to the drawing board.”
Meanwhile, there are over 100 vacancies in the district.
Parents and teachers- we have got to stand up together. Schools without teachers will not improve student learning. Millions of dollars in curricula with questionable value will not improve student learning. Administrators with six-figure salaries will not improve student learning. And we cannot expect our charity to take care of everything that will.
Meanwhile, I am about to leave for work early because I am teaching a middle school student who is illiterate in his first language as well as English to read. Because his overcrowded RTI class is staffed by one of our many new teachers who is trained neither in literacy nor EL. Because inadequate budgets have forced our school to spread teachers very thin to cover classes. I do this on my own time, with curriculum I purchased myself, because despite our district’s high EL population and low reading scores, I have not been able to find curriculum for adolescent emergent EL readers. Barring meetings, I do this 5 days a week. I am not special. Almost every teacher I know has a pack of “adoptees” to whom we donate considerable time, money, and love. THAT is what improves student learning.
Before I left for last night’s board meeting, I witnessed a teacher give a grandparent a few dollars to buy gas so they could drive home. I watched an ESP mentoring troubled students in the car-rider area. I drove past the cemetery where a student is buried after our teachers fundraised the money for the family to have a funeral. All this from a group of people who can no longer afford to live in Nashville, not because we are saints, but because we are committed to the communities we serve. That is just who we are.
I understand that there are tremendous pressures on the board, particularly when it comes to budget commitments. But when something so fundamental to teachers as working conditions and salaries are continually relegated to the back burner, the message is that we are being taken for granted. Those 100 vacancies suggest that is a very unwise assumption. Unless the district can make passing our MOU a priority, that number will grow, and our goal of being “the fastest improving district” will remain a dream.
What Amanda Kail speaks to in the above passage is the truth as she sees it from the perspective of someone doing the work daily. The bottom line is that the district is hemorrhaging teachers. Over 2,800 kids are currently receiving instruction via a digital platform because we can’t find enough certified teachers. Dr. Joseph’s solution seems to lie in increased recruitment and the creation of a Teach For America-type certification program.
You can’t focus on filling a bucket if you don’t plug the holes first. This MOU would go a long way towards sending a message to teachers that they are valued by the district. In pulling the MOU vote, Dr. Joseph cited budgetary implications. I’m not sure what those could possibly be, because an MOU is not a binding agreement. If they had approved the MOU, the district would not be committing to designating any increased resources to teachers. What they would be committing to is making every effort to try to give teachers what they need to be successful. Apparently even trying is too much to ask for at this juncture.