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Why Does Tennessee Have the Best Teachers?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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I would argue that Tennessee teachers are the best in the nation. Maybe I am prejudiced in my assessment as executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. I do have a very subjective view. However, I can base my hypothesis on an incredible group of educators making our state among the fastest-improving states in the country and ranks in the top half of all states in student achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Either premise gives credence to my theory that Tennessee has the best teachers.


Jody Capehart points out: “Teachers are the cornerstone of our culture. We stand today on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, paving the way intellectually by teaching us and challenging us to think and to learn.” She is correct. Teachers are the ones who lay the foundation for the very future of our state and nation, by the work they do in classrooms on a daily basis. Strong schools have strong leadership.


The ability to think, independently and creatively, and to have the skill of applying one’s knowledge is critical in our world. It is common sense that the people who can teach our students to do this are unique and should be highly valued. But the profession has not garnered the respect and admiration that it deserves. Some policymakers and stakeholders simply view teachers as highly paid babysitters, and their jobs interchangeable as widgets in a factory. That is a shame, and we can and must do more to hold educators in higher esteem. Public school teachers are often held to a standard that no other professional is held to.


Quality public education is critical to our future. We should constantly ask ourselves questions like: “What do we expect students to learn?” “How will we know if they learn?” “How do we respond when students experience difficulty in learning?” We cannot be afraid of challenges. Teachers have powerful voices and need to tell their experiences. We need our teachers to continue to shape the narrative about the teaching profession as opposed to leaving it to others to communicate what is and is not happening in our classrooms and about their success.


There are as many secrets to successful teaching as there are successful teachers in K-12 education throughout the state. In fact, teacher quality is a complex construct. We may be able to better examine teacher quality when policymakers choose to engage teachers in defining teacher quality rather than having ideas imposed upon them. The Tennessee Department of Education, as well as the executive and legislative branches, has embraced the process of involving actual classroom teachers. It is a promising start to building a shared understanding of teacher quality for all stakeholders with educator input.


If we are to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness that grips many communities, we need to make sure every classroom has a quality teacher, and we need to make sure those teachers are getting adequate community support and that system leadership supports their classroom teachers. The next challenge for public education is to close all student achievement gaps – at every grade level and subject area — by income, race, gender, geographic location, and student need. Tennessee can meet this daunting challenge if policymakers at every level of government will support our public schools and stakeholders will support and engage in the on-going work taking place in our classrooms.


Tennessee has the best teachers. I believe that. I see them every day and I know what they are doing in the classroom will have an effect on the next generation. Yes, we must continue to elevate our profession. But to do so teachers must see themselves as agents of change, influence, and learning. We have to think and act within our locus of control. Teachers cannot change everything about public education, but we can control how we respond. And society must do a better job of honoring and giving value to the men and women in the classroom doing the hard work every day to ensure our future.




JC Bowman is the Executive Director for Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800- 471-4867 ex

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