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School District Has Attendance Problem With Teachers

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June Keel, Metro Schools' assistant superintendent of human resources June Keel, Metro Schools' assistant superintendent of human resources
Joann Jackson, a Metro parent Joann Jackson, a Metro parent
Erick Huth, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association Erick Huth, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Nashville's public schools have an attendance problem with teachers.

A NewsChannel 5 investigation showed how many of teachers are absent each day.

Fifth grade teacher Bill Duncan said teaching is a hard job and one that people do not do to get rich.

"It's one of the most unrecognized and unappreciated jobs in some cases," said Duncan, J.T. Moore Middle School teacher who rarely misses work. 

But it's also one of the most important.  And even school leaders admit too many Metro teachers miss class every day.

"Is it something that has raised the concern of the district?" asked NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Ben Hall.

"Yes. Yes it has because we recognize that a teacher is the most important aspect of learning," said June Keel, Metro Schools' assistant superintendent of human resources.

An investigation of teacher attendance last school year found that on most days more than 10 percent of teachers missed class. For example, Valentine's Day was the only day when fewer than 10 percent were out. But on the next day, which was a Friday, nearly 20 percent of all teachers were not in class.

The school district didn't have enough substitutes that day so more than 250 classrooms didn't have any teachers.

"What happened in those other classrooms?" Hall asked.

"The students were probably divided among other teachers in the building," Keel said.

"The teachers they need to be there. That's their job and our kids need to be taught," said Joann Jackson, a Metro parent.

She said she noticed that her daughter's teacher was absent a lot.

She is also aware that studies show children learn less with substitutes. In Metro, substitute teachers are not required to have a college degree. 

"I think it's a problem. I really think it's a problem," she said.

Metro's teacher absenteeism rate last year was nearly 10 percent. The Clarksville-Montgomery County School System reported a 5 percent absenteeism rate last year.  Williamson County Schools' rate was 6 percent.

"I do think there is some indication in that data that morale is low in Metro Nashville Public Schools.  It's a difficult place to work," said Erick Huth, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association.

He said many of the absences can be blamed on the district's training schedule. When he was vice president of the teachers' association, he missed dozens of classroom days.

"Why did you miss 42 days?" Hall asked.

"It was mostly for different meetings related to the association work within the district," Huth said.

Despite the reason, substitutes are in the classroom instead of trained teachers and many times, Metro doesn't have enough substitutes.

"The kids are used to their teachers being there and when they're not it affects them," Jackson said.

She is glad Metro is now cutting down on teacher training days. The district is promising to do better.

"What I would really like is for you to come back next year and let's see if any of the things we put into place this year will have an effect," Keel said.

Metro is limiting teacher training during class time this year. They're also permanently assigning substitutes to schools. 

Metro hopes that will make the substitutes more familiar with the school and the students.

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