Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tennesseean Releases Teacher Salaries for MNPS

The Tennessean released data on July 5, 2008 reporting disparities in teacher salaries for Metro employees. The article, “Poor kids' teachers earn less in Metro: Hiring bonuses, other incentives target inequities” raises questions about the hiring practices in Metro Nashville Public Schools, and reports that teachers earn less in schools that are not meeting the No Child Left Behind benchmarks. This article glossed over the magnitude of this desperate situation in Metro schools.

The basic fact that students are not making adequate progress is a reflection of the top-down policy failure by MNPS and the Board of Ed. Students are not making adequate progress, and teachers are being shuffled around in a desperate attempt to fix a problem that they do not fully understand. In order to fix our broken schools, we need to look at schools that work. There are in fact public schools in urban neighborhoods that are successfully educating the students despite limited budgets, supplies, and adequate funding. So what is it about these schools that allows them to successfully educate disadvantaged, at-risk students and how can we replicate their success?

Unfortunately, this article does not offer any new insights into the inner-workings of our neighborhood schools. MNPS does not have the answers, nor does our newly elected Mayor who recently launched an aggressive media campaign to recruit new teachers willing to work within the constraints our over-regulated, under-funded public schools. Teachers, administrators and the community are strangely unfamiliar with the political process, and teachers are expected to implement and carry out policies that were designed by academic professionals or educational consultants.

As an educator and a Metro employee, I earn $10.46 / hour (without benefits) teaching at-risk students, I am offended by the way teachers are treated in the schools, in the community, and by the press. The state Department of Education could not offer any realistic solution to the simple fact that I cannot afford to pay the fees associated with the application fees certification requirements. If the Mayor really needs applicants, perhaps the city should comp the application fees necessary to be considered for employment. I find it difficult to believe that a city so desperate for teachers is not willing to bend the rules just a little or waive the application fee for anyone who is willing to work in such a hostile environment.

My graduate degree in education is from the very same university that Mayor Dean attended in New York City. When I called HR and the “Certificated Office” to inquire about obtaining a provisional teaching license and alternative certification, I was simply told that I was not eligible for alternative certification and without additional coursework, and tuition and fees, I was not deemed qualified to teach in Metro.

I am not qualified to teach in Metro since, apparently, Metro “does not teach education.” What a joke! To make matters worse— I had to pay them to find out that I was not even qualified to work with Head Start. I went to Head Start! Shouldn't that be enough? If MNPS truly wants a better-qualified staff, then the Mayor, the Board of Education, and school administrators need to take a closer look at the methods used to recruit, retain, and reward qualified individuals willing to sacrifice their financial stability for a career in public service. Now that I realize my education was a complete waste of time and money, is it any wonder that I am ready to give up on teaching and maybe even ready to leave Nashville for good. The local hardware store has more to offer including benefits!

The high rate of student mobility is compounded by the constant shifting of school personnel. Many schools may just lose the few experienced, dedicated teachers they still have left to surrounding districts, cities, and states. Such instability in the system may even prompt the younger set to leave the profession all together and discourage future teachers from applying for jobs in Metro.

Everything we know about the positive outcomes in neighborhood schools is their strong reliance upon community buy-in and parental involvement. One thing that makes magnet, lottery, charter schools, parochial, and private schools so good is the fact that parents, teachers, students, and administrators fight to get in, and fight to stay there. The act of choosing, in effect, leads to an enhanced sense of community and builds a supportive, consistent, and structured environment. Calling this project “Fresh Start” is ridiculous-- it would be more accurate to call it a very bad ending!

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Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.