Knox County Teachers Voice Frustrations

Nov 7, 2013

Knox County teachers and their supporters crowd the main hearing room at the City-County Building in downtown Knoxville, November 6, 2013.
Credit Lydia McCoy, Knoxville News Sentinel

About 25 Knox County educators and supporters lined up to address the Knox County Board of Education Wednesday night, and they weren't there to celebrate.

Many of the teachers aired their concerns about a number of issues, from new educational standards to the current teacher evaluation system. Several shared concerns that teacher morale is very low, and that the burdens now facing educators could discourage new teachers from entering the profession.

One of the evening's notable speakers was State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), herself a special education teacher. Johnson said that nearly 2,200 teachers in Knox County resigned in 2012, a 44 percent increase since 2010. Retirements are also up sharply, Johnson said.

Elementary school counselor Irene Patterson said some teachers have been forced to take medical leave for stress. That stress, the educators said, comes from the expectations of Common Core education standards and the tests their students must take. Common Core is a nationwide benchmark for teachers and students. The goal is to standardize what children are learning in classrooms across the country. Tennessee began to implement the standards in elementary grades in 2011, and gradually expanded the program last year. The state plans to fully implement Common Core in the current academic year.

Knox County PTA president Sandra Rowcliffe urged board members to listen carefully to teachers.

"I want to make sure everyone here understands there is a huge connection between what happens in the schools and when we go to the polls," Rowcliffe said, an allusion to the elections that select county commissioners and state leaders.

The assembled educators and supporters spoke for more than two hours. At the end of that period, Knox County Board of Education Chair Lynne Fugate thanked the teachers for coming.

"We know your concerns," she said. "We understand your concerns. We hear them."

Fugate also said the board will discuss what they heard at Wednesday's meeting and revisit the concerns at a mid-month work session.