Alabama's teachers are speaking out after one of their Senators insulted the intelligence inner city teachers — those in the city's largest Black communities.
Republican Tommy Tuberville said Thursday during an appearance on Donald Trump Jr.’s podcast, Triggered, that teachers unions have "killed" schools, and that "the COVID really brought it out how bad our schools are and how bad our teachers are, in the inner city.”
“Most of them in the inner city, I don’t know how they got degrees," he said. "I don’t know whether they can read and write. And they want a raise. They want less time to work, less time in school. It’s just, we’ve ruined work ethic in this country. We don’t work at it anymore. We push an easy life.”
The average salary for a teacher in Alabama is estimated at $32,720 annually, below the national average, according to ZipRecruiter. Many educators recently have expressed feeling underpaid for the amount of work that they do, usually to make up for their school's lack of funding.
Tuberville lambasted teacher unions, who do not just advocate for teachers to receive fair wages and healthcare compensation, but also fight for schools to receive more funding. If nothing else, they provide legal counsel and protections to teachers — their constitutional right. Yet Tuberville, a Republican, felt perfectly comfortable criticizing them.
The Alabama Education Association, one of the state's largest teacher unions, slammed Tuberville in a statement, calling it “disheartening to teachers.”
“Hearing Senator Tuberville’s recent statements is disheartening to the men and women who choose education as their profession and work daily in Alabama classrooms," they wrote. "Our teachers put their total dedication and time into ensuring students can succeed and thrive – and as a former coach at an Alabama university, he should know the rigor and steps it takes for teachers to receive their degrees and certification.”
Some also noted how Tuberville's statements contained racial undertones, as many inner city communities are communities of color. Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Alabama's largest city, tweeted at Tuberville to “stop dog whistling, it’s beneath the office you hold." He noted: "I could not be more disappointed in the comments by the senior senator from my home state of Alabama."
\u201cDear Alabama Senator @TTuberville stop dog whistling. It\u2019s beneath the office you hold.\n\na thread.\u201d— Randall Woodfin (@Randall Woodfin) 1685121120
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten added that Tuberville’s “smearing of teachers, teaching and knowledge is not new, but this cacophony of stereotypical, dehumanizing tropes is a new low."
“He could only wish to possess the skills and knowledge that educators have, whether they work in urban Birmingham or urban Brooklyn,” Weingarten told AL. “They are dedicated to their craft, dedicated to meeting students’ needs, and paid far too little to put up with these specious insults. In fact, they earn 23.5 percent less than their colleagues in the private sector. The question I have is why would a coach who made millions off young people’s talents, insult his colleagues simply to curry favor with another politician?”
Some pointed out that Tuberville insulted the intelligence of teachers, when he himself does not know basic information that would be taught in public schools, citing an interview where Tuberville thought the three branches of government are the House of Representatives, Senate, and President.
\u201cThis you, @TTuberville?\n\nAlso: Tommy Tuberville spent a significant portion of his 40-year coaching career influencing young Black boys and men and as senator he has consistently revealed how little he thought of them and their community.\u201d— Jemele Hill (@Jemele Hill) 1685116746
While it is concerning that someone who influences education funding would lambast it as such, the AEA encouraged teachers not to take it as a reflection of their work.
They concluded in their statement: "Many Alabamians know who our teachers are and the work they do. Their heroic actions during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they continue to do has not gone unnoticed and are commendable. As many teachers prepare for a well-deserved summer break, we hope they do not take Senator Tuberville’s statements to heart and understand it for what it is – a political soundbite.”