Commentary: Back to School, Back to the Future

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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 (July 28 through July 30). Yes, Tennessee, it is back to school time.

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. Educators really are touching the future.

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 dispositions that will allow them to be responsible, contributing members of their community and gain employment with a sustainable living wage.

Educators deserve more respect, and hopefully the Teacher Bill of Rights we championed and that passed unanimously moves us in that direction. Teachers need a real voice in education issues that impact them and their students, which we provide. 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.

Educators welcome fair evaluation and feedback in order 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. One truth is evident: our members do not fear being held accountable for their own performance.

Educators face extraordinary challenges and too often they must confront societal or cultural problems that do not get discussed. Too many politicians give the impression our schools are failing. Their political solution is more standardization, accountability and increased testing without addressing the cultural issues.

Public education is not failing. For those who disagree, we welcome that debate. It is important to understand that the right to believe anything does not mean that anything anyone believes is right. When we disagree, we must disagree respectfully. There are times where we have a right and a duty to disagree with people, especially those policymakers who may not be on the frontlines of public education but are elected to make decisions for everyone.

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 faith community could play a critical part in addressing critical social issues across our state and country. Historically, it was men and women of faith who provided the first social services to the needy. In times of suffering, people often reach to religious leaders first. I would like to see every church and place of worship in this state pray for educators and students on a regular basis, especially as we head back to school. The faith community needs to find out what else they can do to help in our schools. I welcome those prayers for myself and my organization as well.

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.

It is back to school time in Tennessee. We should all roll up our sleeves, as stakeholders and policymakers, to work and make public education work for all of our children. We need leadership and a clear expression of vision. Our future depends on it. Your future depends on it too.


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

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5 Thoughts to “Commentary: Back to School, Back to the Future”

  1. Bob

    Thank you. I might add that spending must be tied to efforts with efforts evaluated by real results. I was disturbed by a recent article I read showing how the percentage of students making A’s has risen inexplicably over the past several years. That infers that either the grading has become more lax or the standards have not been raised to reflect a higher level of accomplishment being the normal. An “A” should reflect outstanding work at the current level of competition, not being awarded as a participation award.

  2. Lynn Seifert

    Let’s talk about the faith community. I have served in a high needs high school for the last five years – 80% free and reduced rate. The local churches are very supportive. Once a week, a Catholic organization comes and provides a lunch. They are the nicest people! Another church group provides goods for our student pantry and clothes for our student boutique. It’s my experience churches would do more, if asked. Prayers? I’m positive that churches lift up students and staff regularly. Separation of church and state be darned, I’m prone to walk the halls at night when it’s just me and the night time custodians and pray for the safety of our students. I’m wondering if our nation has become so obsessed with political correctness that educators have become too paranoid and are afraid to reach out to churches for help. I doubt seriously that a hungry student cares much who is providing that backpack of food or those school supplies or those new back to school clothes. I’m guessing they are just grateful and I’m guessing we’ve carried this separation stuff to a degree our founding fathers never imagined.

    1. Bob

      Lynn – yours is an inspiring story. My church and I personally am involved in the local schools on a regular basis – meals for the teachers and staff, backpack ministry, regular meals for the “high risk” student academy, etc. That is all well and good as it should be, just part of loving your neighbor. I think that we would agree that the bogus separation of church and state has been a gigantic detriment in the arena of public education. And public education is will not be going away any time soon. That makes it imperative that the maladies of public education must be addressed with vigor. If I was king one of my first actions would be to eliminate all federal government involvement in all elementary and secondary schools.

  3. Bob

    Well said. I would just like to suggest one revisions. I propose to edit the statement

    “Their political solution is more standardization, accountability and increased testing without addressing the cultural issues”

    to read

    “Their political solution is more standardization, accountability and increased testing AND SPENDING without addressing the cultural issues”.

    I include some top school administrators in the grouping you have labeled politicians.

    More money for education does not necessarily equate to improved results.

    1. JC Bowman

      I like that. We must tie spending to efforts. We have to quit duplicating efforts in Government Programs. I think we have to address cultural issues. William Bennett said last year, that he didn’t think government could be effective in this arena, but he has somewhat changed his mind. We need a Leading Index of Cultural Issues for Tennessee, and each county as well. Good ideas Bob!