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As criticism of ‘disheartening’ inner city teacher remarks grows, Tuberville says comments misinterpreted

Teacher unions are striking back at Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s comments in an interview on failing inner city schools, with the Alabama Education Association saying the statements are “disheartening to teachers.”

In comments Tuberville made Thursday on Donald Trump Jr.’s “Triggered” streaming program, the Alabama senator said that the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the influence of teacher unions, have resulted in widespread failures in public education.

“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,” Tuberville 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.”

Tuberville cited a published report that 23 Baltimore City schools had no students who tested proficient in math.

In a statement reported by WAFF, the AEA said:

“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. 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.”

See also: Birmingham mayor ‘disappointed’ in Tuberville’s comments on teachers

AEA and many Alabamians know who our teachers are and the work they do,” the statement continues.

”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.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said 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 said.

“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?”

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell also criticized Tuberville for the remarks.

“I’m a proud daughter of two lifelong educators,” Sewell tweeted.

“Alabama’s public school teachers—rural and urban—are some of the hardest working and most under-compensated members of our community. They don’t deserve to be maligned by their senior senator.”

According to WAFF, Tuberville’s office said his comments are being taken out of context and specifically referenced the Baltimore system.

“As for “inner city” versus suburban schools or rural schools, again there are countless examples of this problem nationwide,” his statement read. “Coach is far from the first person to criticize inner city schools, and the critics know that.”

In the interview with Donald Trump Jr., Tuberville spoke of his time as a football coach, saying he spent some of his own money during his career to make sure players could read.

“As Coach said in the interview, one of the reasons he ran for office was because of his compassion for kids trapped in failing schools. As a Coach and a mentor unlocking opportunity for young people for 40 years, he watched a marked decline in our education system and found it deeply alarming. That’s why Coach is a strong supporter of school choice,” the senator’s office said in a statement.

Tuberville’s office did not respond to a request for comment from AL.com.

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