Future of Teaching

Bill to arm some Tennessee teachers with guns on hold for now

PHOTO: Giles Clarke/Getty Images
The Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, prompted state Rep. David Byrd to expand his bill to arm some teachers in Tennessee.

A Tennessee lawmaker is delaying his proposal to arm some teachers with handguns.

Rep. David Byrd

Rep. David Byrd, who Gov. Bill Haslam named this week to a 17-member panel charged with scrutinizing school safety in Tennessee, said Tuesday he will take a “wait and see” approach before pressing his bill further in the legislature.

Byrd’s bill, which passed last week in a House subcommittee, was scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Civil Justice Committee and appeared to be gaining momentum. At least 40 out of 99 state representatives have signed on as co-sponsors.

But the measure is opposed by both Haslam’s administration and the state Department of Education. Byrd said the governor’s office asked him to hold off, and he agreed to a two-week delay.

“They asked me if I would hear them out and be on the task force and go to some meetings before I continue this,” said Byrd, a Waynesboro Republican and former school principal. “I can compromise. If it will get something done, I’ll be glad to roll it for a couple of weeks.”

Byrd has pushed to arm some school employees, saying the state does not provide enough money to put law enforcement officers in every district and every school. Last month, after a shooter at a Florida school killed 14 students and three faculty members, Byrd expanded his bill beyond rural districts to all districts. It would allow school boards to adopt policies that let some staff voluntarily carry a handgun on school property if they obtain a state permit and undergo training.

Now he’s hoping the governor will find extra money in next year’s budget to hire more law enforcement for schools.

“The best-case scenario is to have a school resource officer (SRO) in every school,” said Byrd. “I’m hoping that, by me being on the task force, the governor will see my way into at least funding these schools that don’t have an SRO.”

Byrd’s rural Wayne County district in East Tennessee is an example. It has eight schools but no money to hire law enforcement officers for them.

“I really think the ideal situation is to have both SROs and teachers who are trained to carry handguns,” he said. “The SROs could be in charge of the teachers who are armed and their ongoing training. I think it would be a great thing for our schools. One SRO is not enough.”

Byrd also has amended his bill to address a concern that arming teachers might lead some districts to drop its law enforcement officers at schools.

“The intent of this bill is to train teachers where we don’t already have SROs. I don’t want trained teachers to replace SROs. With this amendment, schools can’t substitute a trained teacher for that SRO if they already have one in place,” he said.

Top teacher

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

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.


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.