As a proud career educator, I cannot let state Sen. Paul Thurmond's mean-spirited diatribe in the April 3 Post and Courier go unanswered.
The senator seems bent on disgracing teachers across the state. Could he possibly make the profession less attractive? You can be sure that if the senator's recent legislative proposals on the employment of teachers make it to the governor's desk, we will experience an unparalleled shortage of educators.
If Sen. Thurmond thinks teacher appeals of their non-renewed contracts is too expensive, look at the costs of teacher attrition ? $7 billion every year in this country. In South Carolina, more than 5,000 teachers leave the classroom every year while universities produce only about 2,000 new educators to replace them. Thanks to his teachers, I'm sure the good senator can do the math here.
And in a classic case of the "pot calling the kettle black," Sen. Thurmond threw down the gauntlet against a supposed union presence in the Palmetto State. The senator seems to have a penchant for bandying about the "U" word at every opportunity, and his derision clearly is directed at trade advocacy groups, including the South Carolina Education Association (SCEA), which has had the audacity to oppose his offensive anti-teacher legislation.
To be clear, the SCEA is a professional association advocating for the interests of its members - teachers and all employees of S.C. public schools. Like most professional associations, we protect the rights of our members, lobby against legislation that runs counter to their interests, provide professional development opportunities, and the like. This makes the SCEA no different from other professional associations, such as the S.C. Association of CPAs or the S.C. Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and even the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers - to which Sen. Thurmond himself belongs. And you better believe that the SCACDL most assuredly will engage in "strong-arm negotiating" on his behalf should bad policies be proposed that negatively affect his livelihood.
These organizations all do the same thing ? champion the interests of their members. This is nothing new.
That said, I would like to address the assertions that the senator made in his op-ed. Yes, we live in a stubbornly prideful "right-to-work" state. But it looks more like a "right-to-subjugate-workers" state. We should not be proud of this status, as it perpetuates poverty here by keeping wages down and corporate profits up.
The punitive measures proposed in Sen. Thurmond's bills (S.1057, S.1058, S.1059, and S.1144) are founded on the false premise that teachers are to blame for everything that is not right with our schools. The senator justifies his proposals as the most effective way to rid schools of "ineffective, lazy, sub-par, and failing" teachers. Pardon me, but don't most of us get an assumption of innocence until proven otherwise?
These bills would yank the due process rights of teachers by eliminating their ability to appeal a contract "non-renewal," which is the equivalent of employment termination.
Schools have many reasons for recommending "non-renewal" of teachers; often such decisions are driven by budget shortfalls, personality conflicts, and an array of reasons unrelated to competence. The existing policy has worked well since the mid-1970s. With this legislation, Sen. Thurmond would brand all teachers who have ever been "non-renewed" as bad or failing teachers. It's simply not true. Yet he also wants to establish a database maintaining in perpetuity the names of all teachers who ever experienced non-renewal. This is a scarlet letter and a life sentence. It would make non-renewal a career-ending proposition.
Sen. Thurmond continues this assault by proposing a bill to require that parents be notified if their child's teacher is in the process of formal evaluation.
This basically opens the personnel files of teachers to the public. Just because a teacher is under review does not indicate any deficiency. It's merely a period of fact-finding and analysis.
But this measure could irreparably harm a teacher's good reputation. I note that the bill does not alternately require parental notification in cases where their child's teacher is found highly qualified!
The SCEA cares deeply about these issues, because respected, thriving teachers make a tremendous difference in communities and in the lives of their students. Studies have shown that teacher turnover, which is only going to increase under these policies, is harmful to students and their academic performance.
As I heard in recent subcommittee testimony, it sounds like these are bills looking for a problem (where a problem does not exist).
Jackie B. Hicks, a veteran high school math teacher from Clover, is president of the S.C. Education Association. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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