Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students

            

Legislators, educators must remember our raisin’

By TEA President Beth Brown ||

In May 1996, as I sat on the football field at Grundy County High School awaiting my diploma, Superintendent Ronnie Fults said to my senior class, “Don’t forget your raisin’.”

A small-town girl, a Tennessean, a Southerner— I’ve kept those words in my mind and on my heart throughout my adult life. This notion of pride of place, of community, is a fundamental value in our Tennessee culture. We sport tops emblazoned with the name and mascot of our alma mater. We identify ourselves by where we live: a Bedford County-ian, a Johnson City-ite, a Memphian. We introduce ourselves by our connections to the community: I’m Daryl’s daughter; I go to church with Misty and Craig; I belong to the Rotary Club. I’ve personally taken immense pride during my tenure in office to introduce myself first as a high school English teacher from Grundy County and then as the president of the TEA.

I’ve been utterly demoralized by the shift in attitude toward educators in just two years. In April 2020, we were lauded as heroes for our extraordinary efforts to provide a high-quality education to Tennessee students despite a global pandemic; in April 2022, we were likened to pedophiles out to destroy the moral construct of our society. Frankly, I have trouble processing this substantial swing in public opinion, but I recognize the source. Outsiders—privatizers—who don’t share our raisin’ are coming into our communities, our school board meetings, and our General Assembly and sowing seeds of distrust between families and Tennessee’s public school educators.

To the legislators who have fallen prey to this false narrative (and even espoused it), I echo Mr. Fults’s admonition: “Don’t forget your raisin’.”

The educators you have maligned are your friends, your neighbors, your fellow parishioners. The educators you have denigrated are the same people who spend hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of dollars out of their own pockets to provide classroom resources for Tennessee’s students. The educators you have badmouthed are the same people who work countless unpaid hours to provide engaging learning experiences for your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews. The educators you have insulted are the same people to whom you are accountable at the voting booth.

To my public education colleagues, I echo Mr. Fults’s advice: “Don’t forget your raisin’.” We chose this profession because we love our students, our communities, our state. Please don’t lose your joy for the vital role we play in society and our education community. And don’t forget to hold elected officials accountable for their words and actions. Important elections are happening at the local, state, and national levels this year, and your voice—your vote—is critical in determining the fate of our profession and our homes.

Finally, to those outsiders attempting to erode communities’ pride in their public schools, I say, “You don’t share our raisin’.” You don’t share our history, our values, or our culture. Go on back to your own place and leave Tennessee decisions to Tennesseans.

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