Arming teachers

Proposal to arm teachers with guns advances in Tennessee legislature

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
A group of mothers listen Wednesday as Tennessee lawmakers debate a bill that would open the door to teachers carrying concealed handguns in schools. The activists are part of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

A bill that would open the door to teachers carrying guns in Tennessee schools passed its first hurdle Wednesday as state lawmakers sought to address inadequate funding to hire more law enforcement officers to police school campuses.

The House Civil Justice subcommittee approved the proposal over the objections of Gov. Bill Haslam, the state Department of Education, and a room filled with mothers and advocates of gun reform. The full committee is expected to take up the measure in the weeks ahead.

The bill would allow districts to adopt policies that let select school staff voluntarily carry a concealed firearm on school property. One school employee could carry a handgun for every 75 students and would be required to obtain a state permit and undergo 40 hours of training, plus another 16 hours of training annually.

The proposal is among several in Tennessee’s legislature aimed at increasing school safety in the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting that killed 14 students and three faculty members in Parkland, Florida. Another bill would let districts use state money to hire off-duty law enforcement officers for $50 a day as an emergency measure.

Rep. David Byrd, a Waynesboro Republican and retired principal, said he’s sponsoring the teacher gun bill because of the outpouring of anger and concern he’s heard since the Florida tragedy.

“This may not be right for your school but, in rural counties … they are in favor of training teachers (to carry guns). They’re in a different situation and they see the need for it,” Byrd told lawmakers.

Tennessee has more than 900 law enforcement officers that are known as school resource officers. They police about 40 percent of the state’s public schools. Seventeen districts, most of which are city districts with only elementary schools, have none.

Byrd said the “best-case scenario” is to hire school resource officers, but added that’s not possible in many rural and financially distressed counties.

Most testimony Wednesday was against his proposal, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald.

Dickson County teacher Larry Proffitt used a personal day to travel to the State Capitol and ask lawmakers to “not turn us into a security force.”

“Teachers do not need to be armed, carrying guns on their hips in school,” he said, noting that districts that don’t have autonomy to accept or reject standardized testing shouldn’t be given that autonomy on firearms.

The bill doesn’t have the support of Haslam or the Department of Education. Last week, the Republican governor made his strongest statement yet about limiting access to guns. He also plans a comprehensive look at school safety statewide.

A Department of Education staff member expressed concern that letting teachers carry guns could actually discourage districts from spending money to hire school resource officers.  

Tennessee already has a 2016 law that allows school boards in rural Pickett and Wayne counties to authorize select school employees to carry concealed weapons. However, Byrd noted that law enforcement agencies there have refused to train those teachers.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, balked at the suggestion that a lack of money for school resource officers makes arming teachers OK in districts that can’t afford them.

We control the pursestrings,” Hardaway said. “It’s a legislative process. We need to go ahead and give the distressed counties and Rep. Byrd the necessary funds to protect his babies and to protect the children in his school system.”

Top teacher

Franklin educator is Tennessee’s 2018-19 Teacher of the Year

PHOTO: TDOE
Melissa Miller leads her students in a learning game at Franklin Elementary School in Franklin Special School District in Williamson County. Miller is Tennessee's 2018-19 Teacher of the Year.

A first-grade teacher in Franklin is Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year.

Melissa Miller

Melissa Miller, who works at Franklin Elementary School, received the 2018-19 honor for excellence in the classroom Thursday evening during a banquet in Nashville.

A teacher for 19 years, she is National Board Certified, serves as a team leader and mentor at her school, and trains her colleagues on curriculum and technology in Franklin’s city school district in Williamson County, just south of Nashville. She will represent Tennessee in national competition and serve on several working groups with the state education department.

Miller was one of nine finalists statewide for the award, which has been presented to a Tennessee public school teacher most every year since 1960 as a way to promote respect and appreciation for the profession. The finalists were chosen based on scoring from a panel of educators; three regional winners were narrowed down following interviews.

In addition to Miller, who also won in Middle Tennessee, the state recognized Lori Farley, a media specialist at North City Elementary School in Athens City Schools, in East Tennessee. Michael Robinson, a high school social studies teacher at Houston High School in Germantown Municipal School District, was this year’s top teacher in West Tennessee.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen praised the finalists for leading their students to impressive academic gains and growth. She noted that “teachers are the single most important factor in improving students’ achievement.”

Last year’s statewide winner was Cicely Woodard, an eighth-grade math teacher in Nashville who has since moved to a middle school in the same Franklin district as Miller.

You can learn more about Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year program here.

PSA

Have you thought about teaching? Colorado teachers union sells the profession in new videos

PHOTO: Colorado Education Association

There are a lot of factors contributing to a shortage of teachers in Colorado and around the nation. One of them — with potentially long-term consequences — is that far fewer people are enrolling in or graduating from teacher preparation programs. A recent poll found that more than half of respondents, citing low pay and lack of respect, would not want their children to become teachers.

Earlier this year, one middle school teacher told Chalkbeat the state should invest in public service announcements to promote the profession.

“We could use some resources in Colorado to highlight how attractive teaching is, for the intangibles,” said Mary Hulac, who teaches English in the Greeley-Evans district. “I tell my students every day, this is the best job.

“You learn every day as a teacher. I’m a language arts teacher. When we talk about themes, and I hear a story through another student’s perspective, it’s always exciting and new.”

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has brought some resources to help get that message out with a series of videos aimed at “up-and-coming professionals deciding on a career.” A spokesman declined to say how much the union was putting into the ad buy.

The theme of the ads is: “Change a life. Change the world.”

“Nowhere but in the education profession can a person have such a profound impact on the lives of students,” association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a press release. “We want to show that teaching is a wonderful and noble profession.”

As the union notes, “Opportunities to teach in Colorado are abundant.”

One of the ads features 2018 Colorado Teacher of the Year Christina Randle.

“Are you ready to be a positive role model for kids and have a direct impact on the future?” Randle asks.

Another features an education student who was inspired by her own teachers and a 20-year veteran talking about how much she loves her job.

How would you sell the teaching profession to someone considering their career options? Let us know at co.tips@chalkbeat.org.