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Growing number of Tennessee teachers disciplined by State Board of Education

State records show that an increasing number of teachers’ licenses have been revoked or suspended because of inappropriate conduct while at work or with their students, as reported by the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Sunday.

The article generated the ire of the state’s largest teacher advocacy group, the Tennessee Education Association. They have called the paper’s findings the “rare exception and not the rule” for the state’s educators.

“Teachers are asked to wear many hats these days – educator, counselor, cheerleader, nurse, among others,” said Gera Summerford, the president of the TEA, in a written statement. . “More than 99 percent of Tennessee’s educators wear each of these hats professionally, appropriately and with great skill. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for an attention-seeking headline. Instead, a Chattanooga Times-Free Press story picked up statewide dramatically exclaimed “Teachers’ misconduct revealed: Hundreds have been disciplined in last decade, Tennessee records show.”

The infractions range from drinking on field trips, sex with students and sending lewd Facebook messages. State records requested by the Chattanooga Times Free Press revealed the Tennessee State Board of Education has taken action against 434 teachers during a 10-year period. In 2005, the board disciplined 33 teachers. Eight years later, discipline cases increased to 51. So far this year, the board has taken action against 27 teachers. Only one case involved educator incompetence, according to the newspaper’s report.

The 10-year database of suspensions and revocations shows locally from 2004 through 2013, 20 Memphis City School teachers had their licenses revoked. Some of the infractions were sex exploitation with a minor, violation of state testing laws and three teachers charged for cheating on the Praxis exam. Teachers in Tennessee must pass the Praxis exam to teach in various subjects. Eight teachers had their licenses suspended. Many infractions involved breaches in state testing procedures.

In Shelby County from 2007 until 2011, two teachers had their licenses revoked for sexual battery and one teacher’s license was suspended for one year after he was accused of sending multiple emails to students and inappropriate images were found on his computer, according to the database compiled by the Chattanooga Times Free Press. That teacher was allowed to resign.

“The Tennessee Education Association agrees the upward trend of misconduct cases is troubling,” Summerford said. “We want to see the number of cases at zero.”

Summerford said the association hosts annual trainings to help new teachers navigate the role of being a teacher. TEA also hosts local, regional and statewide professional development opportunities specifically geared toward professionalism and appropriate interaction with students.

“Tennessee students deserve to have a safe and supportive learning environment led by a qualified, committed teacher,” Summerford said. “Fortunately, for our students, more than 99 percent of teachers in our state meet that standard daily.”

Contact Tajuana Cheshier at tcheshier@chalkbeat.org and (901) 730-4013.

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