Note: Today I am sending a letter to every Tennessee legislator about Educator Sexual Misconduct. Very few educators will ever be involved in a licensure discipline action, and even less in a sexual misconduct related issue. On Wednesday February 21st at 2:30 the Senate Education Committee will hear five bills on this issue. On Monday, February 26th at 1:30 a Joint Government Operations Committee will hear a proposed rule on this issue. I encourage you to attend or contact your legislator on this important issue. Our public schools do a phenomenal job and our educators have a great responsibility. I feel it is important to protect the teaching profession. Below is my message.
~ JC Bowman
I describe myself with the following identifiers: Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Grandfather, US Marine, Educator and Friend. Follower of Christ. It is who I am, and who I was, and all that I hope to be.
A retired Marine Sargent describes Marines this way: the Marine Corps uniform doesn’t come off when our active duty is over. We wear it daily in our attitude and our love of Corps and country. We wear it on our tattoos and our bumper stickers. We wear it on our hearts. I am proud of my service to our country and the values the Marine Corps reinforced in my life: Honor, Courage, and Commitment.
Honor is the foundation of character. It empowers us in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; to respect human dignity; and to have respect and concern for each other. It represents the maturity, dedication, trust, and dependability to act responsibly, be accountable for our actions, fulfill our obligations, and hold others accountable for their actions. Courage is the mental, moral, and physical strength that sees us through tough challenges, overcoming fear, to do what is right. We adhere to a higher standard of personal conduct, to lead by example, and to make tough decisions under stress and pressure. Commitment is the spirit of dedication and determination that leads to professionalism and mastery of our profession. Commitment promotes the highest order of discipline, personally and professionally. It allows us to build pride, concern for others, and an unrelenting determination to achieve a standard of excellence in every endeavor.
I took those attributes with me to the classroom, as an educator in Tennessee: Honor, Courage, and Commitment. Most educators possess the same strength and integrity as Marines. Teaching is about caring for our profession, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to our students. Teachers are an exceptionally important aspect for any society for a number of reasons. Our role in society is both beneficial and significant. Teachers play an extraordinary part in the lives of children during the formative years of their development. The importance of teachers cannot be understated. For this reason, educators are held to higher standards. Ductus Exemplo, is a Latin term that translates into “lead by example.” It means behaving in a manner that inspires others. We must lead the next generation, in our role as educators.
Our organization supports and requests that the Government Operations Committee approve the State Board of Education’s new permanent rule on Educator License Discipline. There is no higher duty than making sure that our children are safe and protected in the classroom. We have never received a call, email or letter asking for our organization to keep a pedophile in a Tennessee classroom. And we would reject such an overture, if such a request was made. Very few teachers will be impacted by any change in the rule. The changes will provide teachers with clear guidance and accountability, ultimately serving the educator and student alike. We are particularly encouraged by the intent of the rule which is to establish a broadened, but focused explanation of the safety standards in place to protect our students and to clarify them for our educators. It protects our profession.
The OREA report on Educator Sexual Misconduct has made clear that Tennessee has a fractured, ambiguous reporting system that has allowed educators who have engaged in sexual misconduct to slip through the cracks. This hurts the overwhelming vast majority of teachers who must not only be confident in the abilities and character of themselves—but each other. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, but above all: character matters. Professional Educators of Tennessee has been following closely the review of Rule 0520-02-03. We are supportive of the revisions, which we believe enhance the uniformity of discipline, define the terms utilized, and, clarifies, simplifies and explains the teacher disciplinary process. Bringing clarity to this issue has been long overdue.
We take the issue of teacher licensure very seriously. Licensure is primarily a function of the state and it is the gatekeeper to employment. It is so important that this is done correctly and transparently. As always, we will continue to work with the Tennessee Board of Education, the Department of Education and the Tennessee General Assembly on our concerns on licensure issues, and to ensure that our educators are treated fairly and impartially.
Failure by the Government Ops Committee to take positive action on the licensure issue will erode confidence in public education, and necessitate additional action by the legislature to close the loophole that make it possible for teachers dismissed from one system for abuse to find another teaching job in another district or state. I implore Government Operations to approve the Educator Licensure Rule and send a message to those who engage in inappropriate sexual misconduct with students that they are not welcome in our Tennessee classrooms. Show the citizens of our state that Honor, Courage, and Commitment matter not only in the battlefield and our classrooms, but also right here in the Tennessee General Assembly.
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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee is 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.