Back To School Time In Tennessee

Thursday, July 30, 2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, if you are a parent. For teachers, so much for the three-month vacation, huh? Most students are eager to get back to a schedule and see their friends. And for taxpayers, it is the announcement of a pending tax-free holiday. It is back to school time in Tennessee. 

The truth is for most educators, public education has become a year-round activity. Even when not in class with students, they are pursuing professional development opportunities, working in their classrooms, and gearing up for the upcoming school year. While educating most people to a minimal level and a few people to a very high level was sufficient a decade ago, today’s economy requires that all students receive a high quality education. The demands society has placed on our public schools have increased exponentially. 

The needs of Tennessee teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and all public education employees have also changed in the last decade. Educators deserve more respect. They need more information to be empowered, not less. They need a real voice in education issues that impact them and their students. Together, we must work every day to make our local schools, as well as our state, a better place for students to learn and for teachers to teach. Professional educators seek out evaluation and feedback to improve what they teach and how they teach it to improve student learning. But we must recognize that we may need different methods to assess student learning. Educators do not fear being held accountable for their own performance. 

However, educators face extraordinary challenges and too often they must confront societal or cultural problems without the support of elected officials. Too many politicians give the impression that our schools are failing. Their political solution is more standardization, accountability and increased testing. Public education is not failing. Kay McSpadden, a high school English teacher, points out: “Our middle-class and wealthy public school children are thriving. Poor children are struggling, not because their schools are failing but because they come to school with all the well-documented handicaps that poverty imposes – poor prenatal care, developmental delays, hunger, illness, homelessness, emotional and mental illnesses, and so on.” 

The state has a dynamic Commissioner of Education in Dr. Candace McQueen, who has worked tirelessly to once again regain educator trust in state leaders. She has involved stakeholders in the process. And statewide test results confirm strong gains in high school and significant gains in grades 3-8 math. Commissioner McQueen has a difficult job, made more challenging by erosion of public support. McQueen is making every effort to make Tennessee a better place for educators to practice their profession, and for teachers to be recognized and rewarded. Tennessee is 1 of only 13 states that has increased K-12 state spending per student after adjusting for inflation. Tennessee has had the 8th largest increase in elementary and secondary state education expenditures compared to the rest of the nation. The national increase has been 4.5 percent, and Tennessee has grown 21.8 percent. Tennessee outpaces the national average increase in teacher salaries. The national increase has been 3.68 percent, and Tennessee has increased 5.47 percent. And going into the 2015-2016 school year our state has clearly turned the corner. We applaud her effort and are glad to work with her to restore confidence and to move the state forward. 

Professional associations must work with school districts and the state to help enhance competence and confidence, build leadership and increase student achievement. Together, we can advance the profession by offering a modern approach to teacher representation and educational advocacy, as well as promoting professionalism, collaboration and excellence without a partisan agenda. For example, we choose to collaborate, not separate, which is a natural choice for a group that is member-owned and member-driven. This leads to the support and respect of stakeholders and policymakers. And we represent the priorities defined by our members — working educators who are passionate about public schools. 

So often we focus on teaching, but it's learning that matters most. Rigorous and relevant learning experiences enable students to collaborate, communicate, think critically and solve problems. As Phil Schlechty says, “what we need are schools organized in ways that put the joy back into teaching and that do not confuse rigor with rigor mortis.” Education can open doors to incredible opportunities that would have never been possible were it not for the education that one received while in school. With inconsistent and changing economic times, it is more important than ever for our nation’s children to receive high quality education and training that will support children in developing the skills, the knowledge, and the integrity that will allow them to be responsible, contributing members of their community and ultimately gain employment with a sustainable living wage. 

It takes everyone working together to improve public schools. And we must work with all stakeholders in public education, regardless of political party or perceived agenda. There is not a one size fits all solution, and no one person, one group or one political party has all the answers. We should all roll up our sleeves, as stakeholders and policymakers, to work and make public education succeed for all of our children. Our future depends on it.

JC Bowman

JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tn.

Karl Dean's Education Equation Doesn't Add Up

So Karl Dean says he will fully fund education if he becomes governor. Mr. Dean was mayor of Metro Nashville for eight years. Nashville spends $11,946 per student on education, which is 30 percent more than the Tennessee average ($9,105).   One would think Nashville would be one of the highest rated school districts in the state. Oops, actually despite spending almost ... (click for more)

Vote Joda District 30

Joda is one of the few candidates for state office who can clearly state what he will actually do when elected to state office. This is a product of his strong work ethic and the education he received from the public schools of East Ridge and UTC. He’s a remarkable young man and deserves your vote.   Joda supports expansion of Medicaid, because working people should ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Police Investigating Shooting That Victim Says Happened A Week Ago

Chattanooga Police responded to a local hospital on Friday evening after a person arrived with a gunshot wound.   The injured man told police he was shot on Thursday, Oct. 11. He said he was shot while on the dance floor of a club somewhere along Brainerd Road.   If you have any information about the incident, call Chattanooga Police at 423-698-2525. You ... (click for more)

Charles Pipkens, Lajeromeney Brown Arrested In Series Of Violent Home Invasions In Which Robbers Posed As Police

Chattanooga Police have arrested Charles Dijon Pipkens and Lajeromeney Brown in connection with a series of violent home invasions in which the suspects told their victims they were Chattanooga Police officers.. Pipkens, 27, was charged in an Aug. 11 case and Brown, 40, in an incident on Sept. 19. Pipkens, of 434 N. Hickory St., is charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping, ... (click for more)

John Gilpin Repeats As Signal Mountain 10K Winner

John Gilpin made it three in a row in the rain at Signal Mountain Saturday morning. He had claimed victory in both the Raccoon Mountain and Moccasin Bend 10K races in recent weeks before adding his second straight triumph at the Signal Mountain Pie Run, a hilly 6.2-mile race that starts and finishes at the Signal Mountain Athletic Club on Ault Road. Gilpin was all alone again ... (click for more)

Baylor, GPS, CCS Advance To State Soccer Semifinals

Baylor traveled to Briarcrest in Memphis on Saturday to compete for a Division II-AA final four spot.  After play to a 0-0 tie in the first half, Baylor would find itself down 1-0 in the 63rd minute when Anna Strong scored off a corner kick.  That lead did not last long as Ara Rhodes scored the game tying goal one minute later off an Avery David corner kick. Two minutes ... (click for more)