Op-Ed by Cathy Kolb, President of the Professional Educators of Tennessee; April 25, 2012:
Putting Trust in Tennessee Teachers
Public school teachers do incredible work across the state of Tennessee and the nation. Though it is fashionable to lay all the ills of society at the feet of teachers, it is not fair. Teachers face situations in the classroom every day that are far beyond their control.
Significant issues such as healthcare, untreated mental illness, declining social services and parental involvement have a direct effect on student outcomes and are clearly connected to student success. Our struggling economy puts even greater pressures on families. It is indisputable that children are sitting in Tennessee classrooms with needs that hamper their ability to flourish academically. It is not an excuse, just factual.
In a recent article How to Demoralize Teachers, education historian Diane Ravitch recently discussed how the media often “run stories about teachers who allegedly are criminals, perverts, or just plain lazy, greedy dummies who can’t be trusted to teach anything and shouldn’t be allowed near children.” These stories are the exception to the reality of the reliable and conscientious teachers in almost every classroom. And those who dishonor our profession should take responsibility for their actions and may need to be removed. We must do a better job as educators to restore society’s confidence in public education. All stakeholders must understand our success today, lead to better enabling students for success in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, we do not share the countless success stories in our classrooms, but should find a manner that better highlights student achievement and school accomplishments across Tennessee communities. We need to emphasize in a more efficient manner exactly who public schools are, what we do, what we have achieved and where we are going. Teachers understand there are very few things as magical as the small miracles that take place every day in a public school classroom.
We recognize public schools must do a better job collaborating, not only in our classrooms, but across the state. Our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, has committed to improve the quality of teaching and leadership by launching “LeaderU” to help meet professional development needs of teachers. We will be expanding across the state with this ambitious endeavor. We are working to personalize and extend teacher learning opportunities, both for our members and non-members alike.
Educators deserve to be treated as professionals and given respect and autonomy in return for performing at a high level. This means we look beyond the current debate of incentives or penalties merely based on test scores. We must retake control of our profession and become the recognized voice on behalf of teachers and students. We must exercise better stewardship of public schools. Society cannot be afraid to put trust in Tennessee teachers. We understand it is up to us to provide a quality education for our public school students and we will get the job done.
Teachers are often not recognized for their tireless dedication to a very demanding job, in which most educators identify as a calling. Every intelligent debate on student achievement would be wise to consider factors beyond the control of teachers and schools.