East Tenn. teachers ask Gov. Bill Lee to teach a class following advisor’s harsh comments

Teachers gathered for a conference following a series of “reprehensible and irresponsible” comments made by a state education advisor.
State representatives and education leaders responded to Tennessee education advisor Dr. Larry Arnn’s “reprehensible and irresponsible” comments Friday.
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 3:58 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Teachers from all over East Tennessee gathered for a conference led by Rep. Gloria Johnson following a series of “reprehensible and irresponsible” comments made by a state education advisor.

The incident happened at a private event where Gov. Bill Lee and Dr. Larry Arnn spoke in front of an audience on the future of Tennessee’s education plan. In a video capturing the event, Dr. Arnn belittled Tennessee’s teachers, saying, among other things, “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”

Lee, whose wife was a teacher for 14 years, did not speak up during the video to defend teachers or dispute the comments.

WVLT News was at Johnson’s conference and heard from concerned teachers, one of whom was Linda Holtzclaw, who invited Lee to come to her school and teach a 70-minute class. Sherry Morgan, a special education teacher at Karns Middle School, asked Lee to come and shadow her for a day.

“Governor Lee, you cannot do what we do,” Morgan said. “I invite you to come to my classroom in the next school year and spend a day with me.”

Andrea Turner, a teacher for over a decade, said Lee’s actions don’t reflect the standards she has for her own students.

“We tell students that integrity is what you do and say when you think no one’s looking,” Turner said. “And I don’t think Gov. Lee expected the public to hear these remarks. And I don’t think he expected us to get to see his complicity with the remarks, his lack of push back and his lack of support for educators.”

Turner told WVLT News she wants the governor to rescind an offer Lee made to Hillsdale College, an ultra-conservative school where Arnn works as president, to help establish charter schools in Tennessee.

Another teacher, Anne Thomas-Abbott, told WVLT News she was hurt by the comments and by Lee’s lack of action.

“I found it offensive on almost every level,” she said. “Silence is the voice of complicity and he’s not only complicit, but he’s going to collude.”

WVLT News reached out to Lee’s office for comment on Lee’s actions in the video as well as the teachers’ actions, and was only given a statement about Lee’s overall education plan for the state. Given multiple chances to address the issue at hand, Lee and his office have remained silent. Their statement:

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