DOES TENNESSEE HAVE COW PROBLEMS?

“As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think” -Toni Morrison
America is undergoing a massive uncoupling between its workers and their employers. Not only is it becoming impossible to staff new openings, but workers are leaving their current jobs in record numbers. For professions, like teaching, where staffing pre-pandemic was already difficult, this significantly raises the stakes and translates to a potential crisis.
Over the past decade, teaching has become more and more of an untenable position. While much of the focus has been on low compensation, growing expectations and responsibilities have also contributed significantly to the downside. It’s no longer enough to just teach Johnny to read, teachers must now play the role of counselor, disciplinarian, social worker, and in some cases, surrogate parent.
All while trying to carve time out for their own families, and maintain some kind of personal identity. Needless to say, the bar is getting consistently harder to reach, let alone maintain.
To further complicate matters, teachers are by nature nurturers. Few entered the profession for financial or personal gain, but rather due to an intrinsic desire to serve others, It’s a bit of a foreign concept to many of us. While we may deeply care about others, it’s not to the point where it would be considered a core motivator for most of us. And that’s not a criticism, the world needs people with different motivations.
What this translates t is a willingness to accept almost any challenge given. Attempting to meet every demand no matter how great the personal cost. The question thus becomes, when do we stop asking?
None of these are new territories. It’s all ground well covered. Yet solutions remain elusive. Yesterday, I came across the following tweet by a teacher. It was in response to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona referring to teachers as heroes,
Not a hero. I’m a woman w multiple degrees who is tired of being exploited, not able afford to live in the city I teach, and it is physically and mentally exhausted. Tired of being called a hero, yet nothing gets done. Tired of having to think about changing careers every year.
It was a poignant expression of a near-universal sentiment. Later I received a question from a parent who was obviously sympathetic, but looking for solutions,
So teachers hate their jobs for many justifiable reasons and parents/students are very dissatisfied with public schools (not just in Nashville, but in many cities). How does it get better? Do teachers in private schools have the same issues? Or is it just public schools? Honest question.
When I read the question, it made me stop and think. Hate to admit it, but the cynic in me concludes that I don’t see a path forward where it gets better, not without a significant change in mindset. Writing those words pains me, but it is the reality.
It’s not like we don’t know how to fix the situation. Smaller classes, competitive pay, and the hiring of more support staff in order to allow teachers to focus on teaching, are generally recognized potential solutions. But again, none of this is new. What we suffer from is not a knowledge deficit, but rather a deficit of desire.
A lack of desire stemming from placing a lack of value on the institution itself. We can’t truly value teachers because we truly value public education.
For evidence just look to the sports world, where athletes routinely command multi-million dollar salaries and we don’t begrudge them. It is a recognized cost of doing business.
I would argue that athletes like Lebron James and Patrick Mahones command their high paychecks not just because we value their individual athleticism, but because we assign a high value to their sport, and are committed to seeing it played at a high level.
Imagine for one minute if the NFL started suffering the same attrition rates as teaching. if star athletes started calling it quits in droves in the midst of their prime, I’m betting congress would hold special committees in order to find solutions. And I promise you those solutions wouldn’t be, “you knew what you were signing up for”, “gotta sacrifice for the fans”, or “we think you should let us tell you how to play the game.”
The NFL recognizes that the quality of their product is directly influenced by the level of play of their stars. As a result, they do everything in their power to allow those players to focus on the game, sans any distractions.
Do you think Tom Brady would be playing at his current high level if he had to work the parking lot, sell concessions, referee the game while playing, and clean up the stadium afterward for less than 60K a year?
Yet. that’s what a typical teacher’s day looks like, and we scratch our heads in wonderment when they fall short of our expectations. It should be the opposite, we should be amazed every day they show up.
Here’s another one for you, imagine if a coach told Patrick Mahomes that he had to run every play exactly as it was scripted. If he walked up to the line of scrimmage and saw evidence that the play wasn’t going to work, he still had to run it exactly as it was drawn up. No deviation.
I suspect that Mr.Mahomes would take his considerable talents elsewhere. And we would defend him for doing so. Yet, that is the expectation laid out for teachers every day. Even though they are the ones at the line scrimmage, those on the sideline assume they know better.
Currently, many of the NFL’s star quarterbacks are demanding more input into personnel decisions. Most of us concede that as a reasonable request. But again, let teachers demand a little more say in the staffing of a school or the make-up of a school’s leadership team. They’d be laughed out of a job.
Instead, we continually scratch our collective heads and offer a thousand reasons why the attrition rate isn’t as dire as advertised. Choosing instead to send out a survey, convene a listening tour, and put together an advisory committee, even though the answer really is simp,e as pay a liveable rate and allow teachers to utilize their extensive training.
MNPS teachers recently got a historic raise. One of the only reasons was that the Nashville Education Foundation put together a study that showed they were under-compensated. That’s fine and good, but why is that even neccesary? Is there an NFL foundation that lobbies for increased salaries for QB, or is their value universally recognized and high compensation a foregone conclusion?
This brings us to the second part of the aforementioned question. Parents are increasingly dissatisfied with public education offerings.
The pandemic has brought closer scrutiny to schools and served to amplify already existing concerns. Public school systems across the country are losing students for both legitimate and illegitimate reasons. In response, public schools and public school supporters are going on the defense while lumping all concerns in the same basket.
Here’s a news flash, calling parents assinine because they have concerns about how their kids are being educated, is not a winning argument. Calling them puppets of corporate interests ain’t one either.
Nobody in the history of forever has walked into the house and said, “I used to believe X until Joe next door told me I was a moron and a corporate shill. That made me really re-think my position and upon reflection, I’ve seen the light.”
What typically happens instead is, I call you a moron, you might argue with me for a minute or two, but then flip me the bird, and walk away. In the case of the public school system, you walk right into the arms of a waiting army of privateers willing to provide alternatives to public schooling.
As much as it can be annoying and uncomfortable, it’s impossible to have public schools without the public. That means making the tent larger and giving more than lip service to parents as partners.
The good news is, that most parents already recognize the value of teachers. They know what it is like to have a good one, and most have had experience with at least one bad one. It’s hard to convince them that we need to make the job more attractive to trained educators.
The only path to significantly change student outcomes and improve schools is to, recognize the value of public schools and then recognize the contributions of teachers in creating quality schools.
Doing so means also recognizing the value of teacher support staff. Quarterbacks alone don’t win games. They depend on a solid offensive line, a stout defense, and quality coaches who know the game as well. Schools are no different.
Show me a reward school and I’ll show you great bus drivers, superlative office people, excellent interventionists, fantastic teachers aids, and a high-quality professional teaching staff. But that only comes together when the people at the top and communities themselves truly value public education.
Hopefully, someday we’ll wake up and recognize that before it’s all too late.
A SPECIAL SESSION THAT IS UNLIKELY TO BE SPECIAL
Tuesday will mark the start of another special session for the Tennessee General Assembly. This one deals with issues related to COVID, including a closer look at the Governor’s use of emergency powers.
The need for a special session was first raised by House Majority leader Cameron Sexton, which in a response to increased federal mandates related to COVID-19. At the time, a number of House Republicans were privately raising questions around Governor Lee’s use of emergency powers during the pandemic. Seemed like a good time to get it all out in the open.
Lt Governor and Senate Speaker Randy McNally was slow to embrace the special session, purportedly because he did not want to provide a forum for a closer examination of Lee’s use of emergency powers. He’s long been a believer in a strong governor.
Unfortunately, this created a credibility problem for Sexton, who is rumored to be the anointed successor to Lee in 2026. Not a good look to wrangle all House Republicans into calling for a special session and then not being able to deliver the said session. McNally has since reconsidered and thus proceedings will kick off this week.
On paper, this looks like a potential shit-show of epic proportions. In real life, we probably ought to unplug the popcorn machine and put the beer back in the refrigerator. I’d be shocked if anything substantial comes out of this week’s affair.
This being a redistricting year makes it easier for the Governor and his posse to manipulate legislators. It’s likely that all of the potential troublemakers were shown potential redistricting maps and counseled on the value of temperance. A little pontificating will be permitted, but show any teeth and you are likely to get bit yourself.
What we are left with is a week of political theater – the lost episodes of Tennesse Housewives of Capitol Hill.
QUICK HITS
I’ve heard it expressed that if you have cows, you have cow problems and Tennessee continues to have cows. The latest identified bovine is State Senator Brian Kelsey. Per the Tennessean, 
A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment charging Kelsey, 43, and club owner Joshua Smith, 44, with violating multiple campaign finance laws as part of a conspiracy to benefit Kelsey’s 2016 campaign for U.S. Congress.
No word yet on how this will affect Kelsey’s appointment to Governor Lee’s BEP review steering committee.
Got wonder though if this is the kind of policy advice delivered by his former advisor Tony Nicknejad who now is a policy advisor for Bil Lee. After all, it’s not like Nicknejad and his buddy Brent easily haven’t been accused of this kinda thing before.
Speaking of the Governor’s BEP Review Committee, the unmasking of committee members continued on Friday. The identities were revealed of the Higher Education and Post-Secondary Readiness Subcommittee, the Post-Secondary Readiness, and the Business Community Subcommittee, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry Subcommittee, the Education Foundations Subcommittee, and the Regional Collectives and Advocacy Subcommittee.

Among those named,

  • Lee Barfield, Board Member, American Federation for Children
  • David Mansouri, President and CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)
  • Ralph Schulz, President and CEO, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Tara Scarlett, President and CEO, Scarlett Family Foundation
  • Teresa Sloyan, President, Hyde Family Foundation

My optimism continues to grow by leaps and bounds. For those of you who are immune to it, that’s an example of sarcasm.

But why wait around for this whole review thing to wrap up when you can just head to Florida in mid-November and get briefed on the plan? From a flier for the 2021 National Summit on Education adverting the highlights,

State education funding flows along fixed, long-established channels—or does it? Join these state leaders for an inside look at bold actions in school finance that are better serving students. From improved formulas to support high-needs students and strategic use of federal stimulus dollars to school incentives aimed at postsecondary readiness, you’ll want to hear how these innovations came about and what new, student-centered ideas lie ahead. Hear from this panel of experts on November 18 at 1:00 p.m. to learn more.

Panelists:  

  • Senate President Matt Huffman, Ohio
  • Matthew Joseph, Policy Director for Funding, ExcelinEd
  • Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas Education Agency
  • Commissioner Penny Schwinn, Tennessee Department of Education

And I thought we were having a conversation.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

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Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. there are a number of professions IMHO that are being ruined (are ruined?) and i would urge people to stay away from generally now – teaching is one. others are nursing and higher ed teaching.

    sad sign of the times.

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