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Teachers feel under attack
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As the state struggles with trying to improve public education, many of its efforts have focused on teachers. Intentionally or not, that has left many educators feeling demoralized and even questioning whether to leave the profession altogether.

Middle Tennessee State University education professor Terry Weeks told The Tennessean he has begun seeing students who are planning their exit strategies before they even start teaching.

"More and more of them are questioning whether they'll still be teaching in three years, in five years," said Weeks, an MTSU graduate who was named a National Teacher of the Year in 1988. "What's particularly perplexing for me, a lot of them are my best and brightest students."

The legislature recently passed a bill that would make tenure harder to come by and is considering another that would gut collective bargaining rights. Critics of the union say the reform efforts will only hurt bad teachers while rewarding good ones.

But Weeks said teachers and student teachers see criticism of the union as criticism of themselves, since they are in the union by choice.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is the son, grandson and brother of schoolteachers, said it is not meant to be taken that way. "I know the hard job they do. What we're trying to do is help them."

He blames the unions for Tennessee's low education rankings on national polls.

"Unions do protect mediocrity. Unions don't promote excellence," he said.

Robert Reynolds, a former probation officer who now teaches math at Two Rivers Middle School in Nashville, said teachers are unfairly blamed for a host of problems over which they have little control.

"We're just undervalued and unappreciated," Reynolds said. "I wish the legislature could make parents more responsible. We get kids coming to school who haven't eaten, maybe their dad just got arrested. .You think that kid is going to be interested in class that day? He's not going to be interested in learning about the slope-intercept to find y on the axis."

Two Rivers Principal William Moody said it is getting rare for him to see teachers over the age of 30, with many veterans leaving for less stressful careers.

"I don't know why anyone would want to be a teacher these days," said Moody, who was named Metro Middle School Principal of the Year in 2009. "I've never seen it as difficult to be a teacher as it is right now."