Today is the first official day on the job for the new head of the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), who lists among her goals an increase in teacher pay. The salary of a starting teacher in the Volunteer State is well below the national average, and TEA President Barbara Gray says Gov. Bill Haslam needs to keep his word on changing that. “The governor had promised a pay raise and said that Tennessee was going to be the fastest-improving state in teacher salary,” says Gray. “And we need that, to help recruit and retain the best teachers that we can get.” Gray says other top priorities include the continued fight against vouchers and privatization. She also wants to see an increase in per-pupil funding in Tennessee. “The funding that we have is even lower than some of the states around us, like Mississippi. They invest more in their students than we do,” she says. “So, with the money that we have, teachers are performing miracles – and to sustain that success and to improve on it, we have to be funded properly.” Despite the challenges ahead, there have been victories for the state’s teachers in recent months. That includes the decision that the renewal of teachers’ licenses cannot be based on value-added scores, which Gray calls “unreliable and inaccurate.” “Thirty percent of our teachers have TVASS (Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System) data, and the other 70 percent don’t have TVAAS data. So the data they have is coming from the 30 percent who have it, from students that they may not teach.” Gray has been in the education profession for more than 40 years, serving Shelby County Schools since 1972. For the past four years, she served as TEA vice president. The Tennessee Education Association is the state’s largest professional organization representing more than 46,000 teachers, school administrators, support professionals and higher education faculty.