3rd-grade teacher shares how Tennessee ‘book ban’ law keeps her students from reading books in class
A frustrated third-grade teacher revealed why she had to come to school on a Saturday — and why her students can’t read books in class — and parents are in utter disbelief.
Teacher and mom Sydney Rawls went viral last month when she shared the impact a new Tennessee law has had on her classroom — and on her personal time. Since then the video has amassed over 2.3 million views and 13,000 incensed comments.
The law, called the Age-Appropriate Materials Act, requires public schools to “post online a list of the materials in their libraries” for parents to review.
But according to Rawls’s now-viral video, the process is much more complicated than that — so much so, it’s requiring teachers to work unpaid hours, all so their students can read books in the classroom.
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In her video, Rawls breaks down the complicated approval process required by this new law.
First, teachers must catalog the title and author of each and every book currently in their classroom library — of which some teachers have hundreds, if not thousands.
That catalog then gets passed along to the school librarian, who checks that list against a list of approved books. The librarian then lets the teacher know which of their books is not on the approved list.
The teacher is then required to go through their library all over again and remove those books. Meanwhile, a list of those removed books is sent along to “someone higher up,” says Rawls — “probably someone that’s never been in a classroom, that’s never taught children.”
Those “higher-ups” then review the list, and they determine if those books are “appropriate or not appropriate.” They then send that feedback back to the school — requiring the teacher to, once again, go through their library.
After that, teachers must post online the final list of books in their library for parents’ review, allowing them the opportunity to “chime in” about books in their classroom.
Until all of these steps are completed, children in Rawls’s classroom are not allowed to read any of her books — no matter how much they beg.
“Sad times to be a teacher,” one comment on Rawls’s video reads.
“And people wonder why teachers are leaving in droves,” another comment reads.
“Every day the school systems is less and less a place for kids/teachers to thrive. I’m so sorry you’re having to do this,” one user commented.
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“I pay for those books…”
Unfortunately, Tennessee isn’t the only state burdening its overworked and underpaid teachers with book bans and censorship.
In Oklahoma, a teacher recently resigned after she was forced to either box up problematic books, turn them around so that the spines faced inward or cover them with butcher paper.
Summer Boismier, a high school English teacher, decided to challenge an Oklahoma law that restricts teaching about race and gender in the classroom.
After covering her books, as she was asked to, Boismier labeled each book with the title, “Books the State Doesn’t Want You to Read.”
Taking advantage of Books Unbanned, an initiative created by the Brooklyn Public Library, Boismier also placed a QR code on each covered book — along with the text, “Definitely don’t scan!”
Once the code is scanned by students, they could receive a free e-library card that would give them access to BPL’s eBook collection — allowing them to sidestep state censorship and giving them the freedom to read any book they so choose.
As Boismier told CNN, teachers are often forced to personally fill and fund their classroom libraries — subtracting from their already meager paychecks.
“I pay for those books. I put books on my shelves that I think not only would be appealing to students, but center stories that have traditionally been left out of official ELA [English Language Arts] curriculum,” Boismier told CNN.
Unfortunately, book banning and censorship aren’t the only trials hardworking teachers are facing. Now, even their classroom decor is being scrutinized — and politically weaponized.
A Tweet recently went viral when it called into question a teacher’s rainbow heart wall decal, along with a bulletin board illustration that reads, “Our class is a family.”
Ellsworth, ME kindergarten open house, provides parents a look at the indoctrination their kids are facing by teacher Rhonda Ulichney. Her class is not a family, it’s not about being kind, it’s about colors and ABC’s. Parents are the family. Pull your kids now. pic.twitter.com/oFKwYuPNFA
— Shawn McBreairty 🇺🇸 (@ShawnMcBreairty) August 30, 2022
The Tweet spotlighted kindergarten teacher Rhonda Ulichney, who was accused of “indoctrinating kids” with her colorful and welcoming classroom decor.
A Reddit thread reacting to the Tweet garnered over 8,000 confused and angry comments.
“Kids stuff is covered in rainbows all the time … In kindergarten, the kids are literally learning their colors. This dude is nuts,” one comment read.
“The attack on teachers is pretty creepy … Next will be nurses,” another Redditor wrote.
“Oh no! The children will be exposed to … kindness?” one user wrote.
The U.S. teacher shortage has hit crisis levels
Considering all that teachers are currently up against, it’s no wonder why America is currently facing a catastrophic teacher shortage.
“Rural school districts in Texas are switching to four-day weeks this fall due to lack of staff. Florida is asking veterans with no teaching background to enter classrooms. Arizona is allowing college students to step in and instruct children,” the Washington Post reported in August of this year.
There are several ways that parents and school administrators can advocate for the teachers who continue to push through various challenges in the classroom despite the mental health toll it could take on them. Attending school board meetings, joining the PTA or simply asking teachers what they need are all ways parents can help.
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