Please Stand for Something

Teachers in Knox County are finding out that speaking to the Board of Education may cost their jobs. This has always been a risk, but many felt that expressing concerns was well worth it, as long as they did so respectfully. They are now finding that even respectfully speaking about certain topics can cause them to be non-renewed. Now, teachers are being told that even SITTING IN A BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING will be “professional suicide.”

In response to those threats, my friend, Steven, posted this:

Point of order about protest/speaking up/taking a stand for what you think is right. Your PERSONAL situation may be good or great (for example, my gig is actually pretty damn good), but the situation of your colleagues in another part of the building, or county or in a different discipline, may be unacceptable. Saying “I’ve got mine” and letting them fight alone is lazy at best, and selfish at worst.


And I absolutely agree.


I have heard many groups gather together, to lament something that they see being done to a colleague, but RARELY see them do more than that. Shaking your head and saying,”Oh, this is terrible,” and then going on with business as usual solves nothing. It does, however, set up a spiral of hand-wringing and hiding.

Ten years ago, teachers in my building were faced with a reading curriculum that was so poorly put together, half the school could barely figure out how to use it. The other half had very little trouble, as they were using a different version and had different training. It was so bad that some of the staff got together, re-arranged the materials, to be usable, and retrained each other. (I assume that was very problematic for the people who had not disclosed that the whole thing was a RESEARCH PROJECT, to show how inferior training impacted student learning!) Throughout that time, we were never afraid to tell our principal that things needed to change.

Ten years ago, our principal met mistakes with a question about how we thought we could correct them and how she could help. By 2010, things had changed drastically, and we started to see sweeping changes throughout the state, as well as the nation. In our building, teachers opinions and ideas were no longer welcomed, but met with disdain and even public shaming. Six years ago, teachers in my building said that we should just “roll with it” until things changed.

Things have changed: Many of those educators are no longer teaching.

Three years ago, when I asked our BOE member to SHOW US the things that were being touted in the budget, the faculty urged me on and congratulated me for asking tough questions. When I asked them to go with me to speak with our legislators, or to even tell me what they would like me to say, they said, “You always do a great job with that. Whatever you say, I’m with you.” They were behind me, but not a single one of them stood BESIDE me.

When they came, in groups, to tell me about a problem that made them afraid to be in our building, that the administration would not address, I called KCEA for help. NONE of those teachers would talk. And when the administration came to my room and said that they knew I had made the call and that I had better never do anything like that again, I stood against them, alone. (Technically, I sat alone, because they were standing and had me cornered, behind my desk.)

Of course, there were always a few other teachers, who would question policy or curriculum, or other school-based decisions. They now say things like, “I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut; it’s just easier” or “See this? This is my happy face, and this is the face I am going to have this year – all year – no matter what.”

I expect those teachers to be gone soon, too.

Accepting terrible treatment and illegal actions, will not make them go away. Hiding them behind a smiling face will not make them go away. Allowing a few to stand up for you may make a difference for a while, but as they are struck down, one by one, who will be there to take their place?  When you are the one being chopped, without due process and you are standing in an auditorium alone, facing the Board of Education, I hope some of us are still around, to stand with you. Based on the unwillingness of most, to even stand up for their students and themselves, I can’t imagine there will be many who are willing to stand for others, by this time next year.

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