Tennessee

Growing number of Tennessee teachers disciplined by State Board of Education

State records show that an increasing number of  teachers’ licenses have been revoked or suspended because of inappropriate conduct while at work or with their students, as reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Sunday.

The article generated the ire of the state’s largest teacher advocacy group, the Tennessee Education Association.  They have called the paper’s findings the “rare exception and not the rule” for the state’s educators.

“Teachers are asked to wear many hats these days – educator, counselor, cheerleader, nurse, among others,” said Gera Summerford, the president of the TEA, in a written statement. . “More than 99 percent of Tennessee’s educators wear each of these hats professionally, appropriately and with great skill. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for an attention-seeking headline. Instead, a Chattanooga Times-Free Press story picked up statewide dramatically exclaimed “Teachers’ misconduct revealed: Hundreds have been disciplined in last decade, Tennessee records show.”

The infractions range from drinking on field trips, sex with students and sending lewd Facebook messages.  State records requested by the Chattanooga Times Free Press revealed the Tennessee State Board of Education has taken action against 434 teachers during a 10-year period.  In 2005, the board disciplined 33 teachers.  Eight years later, discipline cases increased to 51.  So far this year, the board has taken action against 27 teachers. Only one case involved educator incompetence, according to the newspaper’s report.

The 10-year database of suspensions and revocations shows locally from 2004 through 2013, 20 Memphis City School teachers had their licenses revoked.  Some of the infractions were sex exploitation with a minor, violation of state testing laws and three teachers charged for cheating on the Praxis exam.   Teachers in Tennessee must pass the Praxis exam to teach in various subjects.  Eight teachers had their licenses suspended.  Many infractions involved breaches in state testing procedures.

In Shelby County from 2007 until 2011, two teachers had their licenses revoked for sexual battery and one teacher’s license was suspended for one year after he was accused of sending multiple emails to students and inappropriate images were found on his computer, according to the database compiled by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.  That teacher was allowed to resign.

“The Tennessee Education Association agrees the upward trend of misconduct cases is troubling,” Summerford said. “We want to see the number of cases at zero.”

Summerford said the association hosts annual trainings to help new teachers navigate the role of being a teacher. TEA also hosts local, regional and statewide professional development opportunities specifically geared toward professionalism and appropriate interaction with students.

“Tennessee students deserve to have a safe and supportive learning environment led by a qualified, committed teacher,” Summerford said. “Fortunately, for our students, more than 99 percent of teachers in our state meet that standard daily.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

Follow us on Twitter: @TajuanaCheshier@chalkbeattn. Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chalkbeattn.

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union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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