TN teacher expresses concern about what students are allowed to read at school


A Tennessee teacher has gone viral on TikTok with a video about what books your student is allowed to read at school.
Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 6:39 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - A Tennessee teacher has gone viral on TikTok with a video about what books your student is allowed to read at school.

The video centers around a new law that is creating controversy in the classroom.

The Age-Appropriate Materials Act was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. It is now requiring every school to keep an inventory of all library books students have access to and post the list online for parents and the community to review.

Murfreesboro City Schools teacher Sydney Rawls recorded the viral video while spending her Saturday taking an inventory of the books in her classroom library. The video now has more than 1.5 million views on TikTok.

In the video, Rawls said some classrooms have thousands of books that a teacher believes is appropriate for their students. However, all those books are off limits until they are catalogues, approved by the school librarian, and then posted online so parents can comment.

“The kids in here are asking me, “Can I get a book and read?’” Rawls said in the video. “They are so excited, and I have to say, ‘No, you can’t because I haven’t had a chance to go through all of them.’ To catalog them, to write them all down to send off to someone who is going to tell me if they can or cannot read the books in my classroom library.”

Murfreesboro City Schools released a statement about the new policy that said a classroom library is considered to be the same as the main school library under the law. The school district said it is committed to following the law while supporting teachers.

“Our district has provided our teachers with great flexibility in completing this requirement and has not set timelines for completing a classroom inventory,” Murfreesboro City Schools spokesperson Lisa Trail said. “However, we have presented several options for teachers to utilize. Options include creating a simple inventory list, utilizing a book inventory app, or only using classroom books that are also located in the school library. As a district, we will continue to support our classroom teachers as they work daily to educate the students of our district.”

Tennessee Education Association President Tanya Coats said they’re getting complaints from educators across the state about the new law that’s creating extra work and shifting focus away from just teaching students how to read.

“We need to be figuring out how to alleviate some of the stresses that are going on in this state in regard to students reading on grade level instead of categorizing books they are unable to read,” Coats said. “I know that is not the intent. We want to ensure kids have books in their classroom, but just doing this tedious task is something that is unnecessary.”

The bills sponsor, state Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said this law was passed with widespread support from legislators, parents and community leaders across the state. The Department of Education has also issued guidance to teachers and local school districts about the easiest ways to comply with the law.

“It is probably going to be a lift to get that initial inventory in place,” Johnson said. “Once that is done and it is made available for parents to be able to see and be able to express concerns if they have any about materials that are in that particular district. Then hopefully moving forward it will be a very positive thing both for teachers and parents.

“As a former teacher myself, I kind of like the idea that it provides a degree of protection for that teacher. Those materials that are in the classroom have been made publicly available and parents and other stakeholders can see what is in the classroom.”

Coats said teachers across the state are working to eventually comply with the new law, but their main focus is on educating their students.

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