By TEA Interim Executive Director Terrance Gibson
Being a public school educator is not an easy job in a normal year. In 2020, everything we already struggle with as educators has multiplied: even longer hours, increased stress and anxiety, intensified public scrutiny and more.
We are in a challenging season that is pulling educators in many different directions. As educators, we can be so entrenched in the day-to-day of educating students, preparing lesson plans, figuring out the latest virtual instruction platforms and sanitizing and re-sanitizing every surface in the classroom. We often don’t have the time or energy to question a new policy or wonder who determines the conditions under which educators work.
From salary and rules, to curriculum and educator code of conduct, to SPED requirements and building improvements, there is an elected—or sometimes appointed—official behind these policy decisions impacting our classrooms and our profession.
While the country is focused on national politics and elections, it is the elected and appointed officials at the local and state levels who most heavily influence what public school educators and students experience. Decisions on when it is safe for in-person learning, and whether TNReady and teacher evaluations should be suspended during the pandemic, are all made at the state and local levels.
At the state level, the Tennessee General Assembly, the State Board of Education and Department of Education are the decision-makers. The General Assembly passes laws that guide one or more of the rule-making bodies in setting education policy. Legislators are our go-to source for correcting implementation problems. TEA focuses the majority of our state-level advocacy efforts here.
The State Board of Education makes rules—not laws—and directs the implementation of laws passed by the legislative body. While the board is appointed by the governor and is therefore unaccountable to voters, TEA still maintains regular contact with Board staff and has a TEA member assigned to each State Board member.
The Department of Education implements the policies set by the legislature and state board and makes the day-to-day decisions that impact all schools (like when to bail on TNReady when systems crash).
At the local level, local boards of education set budgets, determine pay scales, add locally mandated tests and more. This body works closest with individual schools and is the most in-tune with the unique needs of local communities. County commissions and city councils also play an important role in providing the funding requested by the local board of education.
Our work to continue improving public education does not stop on Election Day. Our work to influence, monitor and hold policymakers accountable to our students and our profession is ongoing. So, no matter who wins a political race, TEA and our members must continue to advocate at all levels for better schools and to create conditions that attract the best and brightest to our profession.