Educator shortage must not lead to longer hours

Planning periods, duty-free lunch, additional assignments are governed by state law


Years of stress, unfair attacks and inadequate pay have resulted in a growing educator shortage threatening student learning and educators’ working conditions.

“Educators tired of the unfair attacks and the lack of resources prompted the decision to leave,” said TEA president Tanya Coats. “For those of us remaining, TEA is not going to allow the burden of the shortage to be shouldered by us.”

As district and school leaders across the state struggle to fill personnel gaps, it is important for educators to understand their rights and protections under state law and local policy.

“TEA has worked to put safeguards into state law to protect things like duty-free lunch, planning periods and additional assignments like bus duty,” Coats said. “TEA staff and local leaders are extra vigilant this year to make sure teachers’ rights are not violated.”

Members who have their planning periods or other professional rights affected by staffing shortages should call their UniServ coordinator.

The best tool to reinforce and further protect teacher working conditions is collaborative conferencing, also known as PECCA. It gives teachers a seat at the table with their school board and a voice in negotiating the learning and working conditions in their district.

Teachers in Metro Nashville and Jackson-Madison collaborated with their local school boards on an MOU that ensures teachers are compensated for extra assignments outside the defined work day.

“A combination of factors has led to record retirements and educators leaving the profession. The first step for districts to attract and retain qualified educators is to offer professional pay and benefits, and a teaching environment that supports educators,” Coats said.

Collaborative conferencing is beneficial for all involved. Districts who have successfully completed PECCA have lower turnover and improved teacher morale. TEA UniServ are trained and ready to help local associations throughout the PECCA process.

In addition to collaborative conferencing, TEA was successful this legislative session in passing a law that allows retired educators to come back to the classroom for an extended period of time without jeopardizing their retirement benefits.

“The answer to filling educator positions should not lead to lowering the standards. Instead, the state must increase access for qualified teachers and provide the support and resources needed once they are in the classroom,” Coats said. “The bottom line is this: state and district leaders must not solve the educator shortage by increasing the workload on Tennessee educators or infringing upon their rights.”