By Sally Absher

Social Media blew up a little last month when a 20 year veteran Knox County teacher and former Teacher of the Year posted her resignation letter on her Facebook page.

I contacted the author of the letter to ask if I could print the letter as part of this article. She replied that she wished to “fade back to anonymity” but that I could use the letter without her name. I have removed a few key phrases to protect her privacy, but I am certain that she speaks for many of the teachers in the Knox County School system. Her story needs to be told.

“It is with a strange mix of sadness and joy that I tender my resignation with Knox County Schools effective May 23, 2014.

This decision was reached over time and with great difficulty. I entered kindergarten at Adrian Burnett Elementary School the year the school opened, and soon after decided that I wanted to be a teacher. My dream was to return to “my school” and teach third grade. I have now given twenty years to the students and families of Adrian Burnett, nineteen of those in third grade.

To some, this dream may seem small, but it was my dream, and it came true. I am ever so thankful for the opportunity to teach the grade I love, in a school I love, with teammates and staff members who have been as close as family. My calling, my mission in life, was to work with children; to teach not only academics, but also the importance of having good character, to show love and respect, to be kind and expect kindness in return.

I have tried to instill in my students my belief that we must respect and take care of one another. I have aimed to be a positive role model in the lives of my students–smiling, laughing, encouraging, giving hugs, keeping my word, believing in them so they would learn to believe in themselves.

Over the years, I have watched my students’ ballgames, frequented birthday parties, sat among families for baptisms. I have received countless high school and college graduation invitations, attended weddings… These are sweet memories that I will always treasure, and I have been changed for the better because of these relationships.

I am saddened beyond measure to leave this chosen work that I hold dear, to leave my precious Adrian Burnett family and friends. I cannot, however, remain in a profession where children are treated as data measurements rather than tiny humans with real needs, and where teachers are treated with blatant disregard and disrespect.

As a former Teacher of the Year, a respected school leader and colleague, it has been shocking to find myself in a position of having to fight for my professional life and reputation as a “Conference of Concern” teacher. More upsetting still is the lack of support offered in light of this situation. My confidence has been shaken as I wonder why I wasn’t worth saving, why promises were made and not kept.

The constant threat of losing one’s job creates a wearisome work environment. The joy of teaching is gone. It has been replaced by discouragement, anxiety, and fear. There is little to no encouragement; this job can be thankless. I certainly did not enter this profession thinking it would be easy or filled with glory. Teaching receives little respect from the public in general, but more upsetting still, is the fact that teachers receive such a lack of respect from our very own educational leaders. Teachers are viewed as expendable rather than valuable, incompetent rather than intelligent, and scorned rather than honored.

While I am committed to the continuation of my desire to help children, especially those in need of extra support, encouragement, and love, it will not be as an employee of Knox County Schools. Even in light of all that is flawed within our system, I continue to believe in the high calling of teaching as a profession, and I wish those who remain true to their calling the very best.”

The comments posted in response to her letter are equally emotional. Judy Tharpe posted “…She is one of the best, brightest, caring and gifted teachers I have known. This sort of ‘bullying’ of our teachers has got to stop.” Jill Wright adds, “This is a huge loss for KCS, and it’s obvious that those in charge didn’t try to save her…”

Retired Farragut Primary teacher Mary Taylor commented, “Why can’t KCS realize what a disservice they are doing when teachers like this are leaving because of the lack of respect and appreciation shown to them for their years of dedication to students?.”

Just how many teachers are leaving KCS, and why are they leaving? WBIR noted in a May 15 news story that “the 2013-2014 school year in Knox County marked a turning point for many teachers. Many expressed, for the first time in public, their opposition to changes in education, testing, and administrators in the district.”

Channel 10News requested the number of certified teacher retirements and resignations in Knox County for 2013-2014, and in previous years. Based on those who had submitted paperwork by the end of April, KCS expected 124 teachers to retire and 135 to resign by the end of June, 2014. The numbers for 2012-2013 were 186 and 269, respectively. Of course, it is still early. Many retirements and resignations come in over the summer months.

Patti Bounds, recently elected BOE member for District 7, said, “The numbers just don’t seem to match what we hear on a daily basis. I know when I went to sign my retirement papers I heard differently. I am going to be checking with the president of the Retired Teachers Association. I’m going to keep looking into this.” At Brickey Elementary, where Bounds taught until last week, six teachers and 1 staff member are leaving, a total of 200 years of experience.

Lauren Hopson said “I also think the numbers don’t reflect the number of people who would resign if they had another option… In other professions, you can change to another company and be in a totally different environment. Circumstances for teaching (in public schools) are bad everywhere, and many can’t afford to teach private school due to lack of benefits..”

WBIR also reached out to the district for comment. Superintendent Dr. McIntyre sent the following statement by email:

“Thus far, the Knox County Schools retirement and resignation numbers appear to be fairly typical and in line with recent years. We do expect a certain amount of turnover given that the Knox County Schools employs about 4,500 certified personnel.

Regardless, I strongly believe that improving support structures for teachers and enhancing compensation must remain key priorities in order to retain and recruit the very best talent for our school system.

Our retirees have given a lifetime educating and serving our children. I greatly appreciate their service to the children of the Knox County Schools and their important role in preparing our students to succeed in college, career and life.”

The Shopper News reported last week that 10 teachers and 6 staff are leaving Bearden High. A BHS chemistry teacher said, “to say this is typical and that KCS wants to focus on keeping and recruiting the best is amazing. We counted about 300 years of experience leaving Bearden this year.”

Sherry Morgan, former KCEA President, said “I want them to do a report on the retirement meetings where there is standing room only.” Jill Wright added “I know someone who called HR to resign. This person was told to call back next week because they are so behind in processing all the new retirements and resignations.”

This comment on the teacher’s letter expresses the frustration felt by many: “How many more teachers have this happened to that we know nothing about? When this experienced teacher is replaced by a new teacher Dr. McIntyre will boast about how he saved money. The institutional knowledge of our school system is fading before our eyes as this bureaucrat Superintendent keeps experimenting with education. And our BOE? Where are they? Cheer-leading as our school system loses its greatest resource. Our skilled teachers. Somewhere today Doug Harris is telling people if we only raise another $30 million dollars we can change everything, that more money is the answer to all problems. There is no leadership at the BOE. They refuse to stop this Superintendent. Had Dr. McIntyre taught for more than nine months, maybe he might understand the value of experienced teachers. He sees teachers as gears in a machine. Not as the inspiration and mentors to students. Where is the letter of concern to Dr. McIntyre?”