Commentary: Educators Give Hope

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In public education we are the givers of hope and aspiration. We are solvers of problems. We are the people who help make dreams come true.

Folks are familiar with the famous Colin Powell comment to President Bush before the Iraq invasion: “You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.”

And I am proud to say that the teachers I talk with welcome that challenge on behalf of Tennessee children. They understand the important historical and philosophical basis of why public education exists.

I am blessed to represent a teacher’s association, the Professional Educators of Tennessee. Our members come from all aspects of the educational system. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. We are not political, in the sense that we do not give our member’s money to political candidates or parties, nor do we endorse political candidates. However, we do work closely with policymakers and other stakeholders across the state to address issues and challenges facing our educators and students.

Other than false criticism by our competitors, we have developed a reputation for working hard for our members and being a group anyone who is “serious about public education” in Tennessee needs to talk to. We are very effective in what we do.

We promote excellence in education, so that our members receive the respect, recognition, and reward they deserve as professionals. Our choice to collaborate, not separate, is a natural choice for a group that is member-owned and member driven. Our members recognize the difficult challenges facing our state and nation, and we accept that mission.

Our commitment is to be non-partisan and our organization will remain non-partisan as long as I am at the helm. Our governing board is also firmly entrenched in keeping this position. We have seen the damage done by other organizations, especially labor unions, which become overly political or favor one party over another.   Our profession must avoid unnecessary political polarization and seek common ground when possible on our issues.   We don’t even list the political affiliation of elected officials on our materials, because quite frankly, we don’t care.

I spend a lot of time talking with policymakers, and they want to know what I know. That is: they want to know what our teachers are thinking. And I certainly do not hesitate to let them know. In the pages of The Tennessee Star and other publications across the state, I share what I hear from the trenches.

I want to say in all earnestness that I love making fun of politicians. It is a favorite hobby of mine. However, there are some serious people at the Tennessee General Assembly who really do care about our teachers and students. The State Board of Education and the Department of Education are also extremely helpful, even as we challenge them on some issues. I particularly like the politicians who don’t have their hands in your pants pocket, and they don’t try to get into your pants. They are champions to me. They are the ones I love working with the most for teachers and kids.

Because we do not give money to politicians, some of them will not listen to us. That is a very small group. I am not sure they listen to anybody. And quite frankly I think that is systemic of a larger problem. Our government should never have a price tag on it. Because once you put a price tag on it, it will lose its value, and you will find it at a resale shop at a real discounted price.

If public education is to continue to be successful, it will take all the policymakers and stakeholders working together. Our message must be about children, teachers and public education not politics or social policies not related to public education.

When we take that message to policymakers, they understand why we fight for public schools. In the end, when our educators are successful, our students will be successful.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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