TEACHERS ARE SICK

“Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down.”
Socrates

“If you’re not gonna tell the truth, then why start talking?”
Gene Wilder

Today we are going to talk sick-out. A large number of MNPS teachers are currently participating in a sick-out in order to bring attention to Mayor Briley’s ridiculous offer of a 3% raise. Reports have the number of teachers out today rivaling Friday’s numbers at just under 1000. That’s pretty substantial and represents between 15 and 20% of the entire workforce.

Before we get too deep into the conversation, I want to throw a caveat out there. The thing that I like about this action is that its teacher organizing other teachers sans any agenda besides fully funding schools. As far as I can tell there is no hierarchy, nor does there appear to be any other affiliation with outside interests. I suspect that when this issue is settled, one way or another, the loose alliance may morph into another entity or just fade away. In other words, this action is the truest definition of grassroots organizing that I’ve witnessed in a long time. That is refreshing.

That said,  it’s my belief that whether teachers participate or not is an entirely personal decision. Your participation, or choice not to participate, is not a reflection on your level of caring for kids. Every teacher needs to decide for themselves if the current conditions are sustainable or not. Each individual needs to decide for themselves what they want to do. There are more than enough people willing to daily tell teachers what they should do, instead of trusting that they are capable of making their own decisions. So while I will argue for participation, please understand that I offer no criticism for those that don’t.

Teachers have said to me, that they can’t call out because their students need them too much. I get that, but are you meeting short term goals at the expense of the overall needs? I don’t know, but at current funding levels are kids truly being set up for success? If you don’t believe that, then a few days of inconvenience for kids is a small price to pay in order to secure the resources needed for them to truly succeed.

This past weekend I was repeatedly asked if I felt that a sick-out could have any kind of real impact. Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know, is what won’t work. And that’s doing nothing.

Over the past several years teachers have tried to do the right thing. They’ve advocated with board members. They’ve shown up and spoke at board meetings. They’ve emailed the mayor and city council. There have been positive Red4Ed walk-ins held before school in a very civil and respectful manner. Everything short of a strike or walkout has been tried and has resulted in nothing but some honking cars and thumbs up from passing motorists. In his state of the city speech, Mayor Briley didn’t even acknowledge the walk-ins. So it’s clear that despite these valiant efforts, the impact has been negligible.

The choice comes down to either doing something that may also have no impact or just accepting that MNPS will remain an underfunded and underresourced district. That’s the point that I think district administrators are missing. It hasn’t really sunk in that so many teachers feel as if their backs are up against the wall, and as a result, they’ve reached a breaking point. The sick-out is being perceived as a negative action and but I actually see it as something positive.

Participating teachers are willing to risk not only their MNPS employment but their very license to practice a profession that many considered a calling, to engage in an action that may not even work. If they didn’t love MNPS and the kids as much as they do, they would just leave. There would be no opportunity for the city to make things right, just a silent farewell and those current teacher absences would now be teacher vacancies. Instead, they are willing to stand and fight.

When it comes to teacher attrition, Nashville has been in a continual state of denial for years. Teachers would leave in large numbers and district leadership would hide behind the mantra that this was a national problem. That mantra was used to justify a failure to create a meaningful strategy. Teacher attrition is a national problem, but it is not, as it is oft described, a “teacher shortage” but rather as in the words of writer Peter Green,

There’s a slow-motion walkout, a one-by-one exodus, a piecemeal rejection of the terms of employment for educators in 2019.

The sick-out is an attempt to get those not in the classroom to understand that. Mayor Briley cannot call for everybody to support new director Dr. Adrienne Battle without providing adequate funding in order for her to effectively do her job. He can’t say that education is the most important thing the city funds and then divert funds elsewhere. Empty rhetoric is just that if you don’t back it up with resources and action.

Board member Will Pinkston has been ridiculing teachers via social media. Referring to them as cranks who are just looking for instant gratification. He counsels that smarter people would be looking at a long term strategic plan for increased compensation. He points to the mayor’s promise to work towards that plan. Let’s dive into that for a second.

The mayor is promising a long term action when Nashville hasn’t even promised him a long term job. His approval ratings are at 66%, his successors were at 61% right before she resigned. His challengers all voice a commitment to public ed, but who knows what that translates too. Does a smart crank really bet on an unknown?

I understand why Pinkston would like teachers to support the mayor since he’s an advisor that would likely translate into a long term compensation deal for him. But look at the record. Over the last decade, Briley has been a council member and vice-mayor. During that time he has not shown an inclination towards advocating for increased teacher compensation. In 2017 while he was Vice-Mayor teachers received a 3% raise but only after they clawed back 1% when then director of School Shawn Joseph considered cutting it to 2%. Last year teachers actually took home less money due to an increase in insurance costs coupled with no raise.

Pinkston may have raised the issue of a long term compensation plan when he got on the board, but the reality is that over the last 7 years of his tenure nothing has been done. As mayor, Karl Dean raised starting salaries for starting teachers in 2011 but little has happened since. What would indicate to teachers that the future would be any different?

I would also argue that Nashville is currently growing at a level that can not be permanently maintained. Some of this growth is eventually going to level off. With the continued, increased growth will come continued increased costs. Where is it that this untapped stream of income to support schools is suddenly going to spring up from? Which begs the question, if not now, when?

A three percent raise is just not an acceptable number. If a teacher makes 50K a year, that’s a little less than $50 a paycheck. That’s not enough to allow teachers to live in Davidson County. It’s not enough to allow them to drop that second job. It’s not enough to allow them to join the throngs of tourists partaking in the offerings of the new Nashville. It’s not enough to entice them to stay.

On the good news front, I get a sense from talking to people that the Nashville Public Education Foundation is formulating a plan to tackle the issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of teachers. I’m not 100% sure what that is going to look like, but from what I hear, it sounds promising. It would be wonderful to have a public education foundation that actually works for public education in Nashville and not it’s directors agenda. Let’s hope the rumblings I hear bear fruit.

Nashville has had no problems raising money for soccer stadiums, conventions centers, and corporations. All are funded with the promise of increased revenues to the city. But when will the average citizens reap the benefits of these investments? When will the citizens of Nashville see a rise in their quality of life instead of tourists continually seeing a rise in the benefit of experience?

Hopefully, the sick-outs will increase awareness of the funding issues our schools face. Once faced with the reality, Nashville will be forced to make a choice. Do we value education as a city? Are we willing to truly invest in our children? If so, then it’s time to roll up our sleeves and find a way to meet the financial needs of Metro Nashville Public Schools.

I would like to leave you with one final caution. Labor actions have a tendency to build resentments. Resentments come in many forms; teacher to teacher or teacher to leadership. It’s important that in going forth we guard against these resentments taking root. There is a lot of work that needs doing, and we need everybody fully vested. So let’s always remember that it’s about policy and not people.

The way I see it, teachers are left with two choices, protest loudly or leave silently. That’s a decision that is now being made daily. It’s on Nashville as a city that teachers are even faced with making this decision. We have to do better.

QUICK HITS

This past weekend Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse was up in Rochester, New York. Narcisse is a finalist for their superintendent vacancy. If you are interested, you can watch his interview online. If you are one of those folks who think that the Nashville School Board is uniquely dysfunctional, I urge you to read about the Rochester search.

Tradition seems to state that in an effort to appear to be doing something while not actually doing a thing, leadership will either construct a focus group, sends out a survey, or conduct a series of listening events. In this case, MNPS will opt for the 3rd idea. It’s been announced that over the next couple weeks new Superintendent Battle will host three listening events. What she expects to hear that she hasn’t heard in the last 20 years of employment with MNPS is a mystery to me.

The fact that we are even engaging in this activity belies the very reasons she was drafted for the job. As a community superintendent, the impression was that she was well versed in district challenges and had already given thought to solutions. Now here we are with another listening session. I just pray a focus group isn’t next.

Speaker of the House Glen Casada seems to be having a bad time after passing the Governor’s voucher bill. Late last week News Channel 5’s Phil Williams ran a story that raised questions about whether or not Casada and his Chief of Staff Cade Cothren had doctored emails in an effort to frame an African-American activist. Today a report is released that shows Cothren having as recently as 3 years ago used cocaine in his legislative plaza office.

Obviously, I am sympathetic to youthful indiscretions, but 3 years is fairly recent indiscretion and Casada has been a supporter of drug testing for welfare recipients. I’m fairly certain he didn’t request the same for his Chief of Staff, thus raising the whiff of hypocrisy. Why do I get the feeling things are only going to get worse for Casada.

As you can tell by the graphic to the left, there are some amazing things taking place at Overton High School. Hat’s off to a great class.

Allow me to share a FB post from the MNPS School Board’s chair of Budget and Finance Anna Shepherd. The board received Mayor Briley’s recommendations on the budget last week and the allotment he was willing to give MNPS was far smaller than acceptable. Typically the school board’s budget and finance committee will meet and revise the budget before presenting it to Metro Council. Ms. Shepherd has different plans,

I just want my constituents to know that I fully support our MNPS teachers, para pros, bus drivers, and support staff. As MNPS BOE Budget and Finance Chair, I have made the decision to bring to Metro Council the same budget and ask that we made of the mayor. A big part of that ask was a 10% raise AND step increase for teachers. The Mayor’s response was a paltry 3% raise with NO step increase. That is an insult. If Nashville can fund a soccer stadium then we can fund education. #educationisarealpriority #mysoapbox

There ya have it. Well said and appreciated Ms. Shepherd.

POLL RESULTS

Time to take a look at the results from last weeks poll.

The first question asked if you support the sick-outs. Out of 149 responses, there were 64, or 43%, indicating that when you have no options you have to do what you can. The number 2 answer with 39 responses, or 26%, indicated you were glad to see them. Only 3 respondents indicated no support. Here are the write-ins,

I don’t support them and I am a teacher. 1
Want to join, but out of sick days. 1
Not enough participation! They need more! 1
I understand why, but it hurts the children more. 1
We are in dark times 1
I understand but I’m glad my teacher husband went to school and taught. 1
Time to go system wide. Briley doesn’t care. If it’s bigger, he cant ignore. 1
Every teacher should call out on same day 1
The police and firefighters should join!!!!

The second question asked for your opinion on the Mayor’s proposed budget. Out of 145 respondents, 39% responded that the money still wasn’t getting to those that needed it. The number two answer, at 34%, asked if Briley’s term was up yet. Here are the write-ins,

It was a slap in the face to Public Education 1
Briley is a good ole boy 1
Expected given Nashville’s historic low regard for educating the urban corps 1
He is delusional! Nobody works for free! 1
Doesn’t know the value of our Educators! 1
Gutless 1
It feels like all the fluff is coming right from my pocket. (13 yr MNPS vet) 1
A joke and blatant insult 1
No kid in public school. Still being told what to do 1
He is an idiot. 1
He’s basically campaigning for Clemmons now

The last question asked for your thoughts on the mayor’s proposed million dollar fund for local community college students. That one only got 113 responses with 72% voicing opposition. Only 6 people applauded it. Here are the write-in votes,

Sigh… 1
We’ve had this before-not a new idea. 1
Fully fund MNPS, first. 1
Proper k-12 education would mitigate the need 1
Community college is already free! What the hell is this? 1
If he can find a million for that, he can find money for 18% teacher COLA raises 1
He wants brownie points 1
It’s about him and Dammus images. MNPS teachers are paying for this. 1
Let’s get our k-12 education right first. 1
Unsure 1
Shrug emoji 1
Without great teachers, there won’t be college

That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page where we try to accentuate the positive. If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight, send it on and I’ll do the best I can. Send things to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Thanks for your support if you feel so inclined, please head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Enjoy the remainder of TNReady testing as much as you can.

 

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3 thoughts

  1. I found the bizarre 31 signature letter submitted to the Tennessean, apparently the legal record of matter here in Nashville (do people read that rag?) Now full disclosure I do I like to laugh out loud reading the epitome of fake news meaning that they do little to actually vet or validate what seem to be largely press releases from varying sources taken as valid. My favorite was that the Post, the Scene and the Tennessean printed a story about a restaurant opening in HIllsboro Village in the wrong location. The actual website of said restaurant had the correct address but hey that takes actual work and stuff! So to write a letter supporting the former Director is all well and good and too late and absurd and the point is to do what? Did the check not clear?

    This is all comical and bizarre in ways that defy explanation. Meanwhile Phil Williams has gone on to expose other stories of relevance with coke sniffing, sexual harassment and vulgar language by the large and in charge WHITE legislator who seems to have some other issues regarding race and public education that serves largely faces of color. HMMM but no let’s talk some more about this. In Kentucky Matt Bevin asked for all the names of the Teachers who did a sick out last year and was given said names. How soon do you think the Plumber will do the same?

    The Mother of Dragons has to make it through the next two weeks and then she can release them. Pinkston reminds me of a marshmallow I bet he is delightful toasted and roasted. Will he be quitting again soon? I love temper tantrums from grown men so charming.

  2. On the Vanderbilt letter, wow, just wow! What the heck is that, I almost feel like it’s its own version of the College scandal. Since when does a University support a person instead of learning a theory? What is the end to that letter? Why write it in the first place?
    Could it be who you know? If this is the case, I am disappointed in a highly prestigious university for supporting this and not current policy decisions. Where is the op/ed on ESAs/vouchers, school discipline, and other hot topics. Not because I agree or disagree, rather there are more powerful things to stand behind, and one man’s story is a waste of respected voice. Disappointed in their professional ethics.

    1. 100%

      This was about supporting Mrs. Joseph and the university’s self interest in literacy partnerships.

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