Danielle Ladd-Suits has been teaching Latin for a decade at West Creek High School in Clarksville. But she fears soon she won’t be able to be the teacher she wants to be anymore.
“They’re deliberately asking us to set aside our training, set aside what we know works for kids, set aside what we know is going to save lives. That’s majorly problematic for me. I shouldn’t have to choose between keeping my job and doing the right thing for my kids,” said Ladd-Suits
So, recently, Ladd-Suits handed in her resignation letter. She plans to join a nonprofit that works to support LGBTQ children and their families.
What has led her to step down is a new law that allows guardians to opt their children out of learning about the LGBTQ community. Another measure banning discussions of systemic racism in classrooms is awaiting Gov. Bill Lee’s signature.
Some Tennessee educators say these measures prevent them from doing their job — protecting students. They’re wrestling with how they can follow the law and also foster conversations about important issues in their students’ lives.
Diarese George, executive director of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance, says limitations on teaching will stifle critical thinking and empathy in the classroom.
“We can’t afford a country that has people who continually think that whatever they’ve been exposed to and however they’ve grown up is the only way and the right way,” said George. “We’ve got to be able to intersect some different opinions, thoughts and lived experiences there. And if you don’t, you’re erasing history.”
Some Tennessee teachers think that will harm minority students — and they would feel complicit.
Everett McNair, a teacher at Fulton High School in Knoxville, believes teachers should be trusted to know what’s right for their students.
“We cannot do what we know to do to best benefit our kids,” said McNair.
He says no law will stop him from advocating for his students. He plans to test the new rules, even if it means trouble for him.
“I’d rather know I got fired for doing the right thing, than do nothing at all. I will do what I have to make sure these students know they have a safe environment they can go into.”