By TEA President Beth Brown | When I began my teaching career in August 2001, I had the rare pleasure of not only joining my parents’ profession but also their workplace. I will never forget my mother taking my elbow, leaning in close, and offering me two pieces of sage advice: start saving for retirement immediately and join the association.
Following her pointed finger, I walked to the back of the cafeteria and signed my membership application. While I joined the association because my mama told me to, I stayed in the association because in GCEA/ TEA I found a space to advocate for my students and my colleagues.
My college diploma had not even arrived yet when I stepped into Room 18 of Grundy County High School as a first-year teacher. My collegiate experiences were fresh: I could still feel the cloud of inadequacy that hovered when I realized that my college classmates’ preparation had been significantly better resourced than my own, and I still felt the sting of my journalism professor’s backhanded compliment that I was the “only decent student to ever come out of Grundy County.” I vowed I would work every single day to make sure that my students never had those experiences.
That commitment to my students—and to the one million students in Tennessee’s public schools—drives my work every day. Through my conversations with educators across our state, I know I am not alone in that commitment. Though chronic underfunding and systemic inequities existed in our public schools long before 2020, the onset of the pandemic has highlighted these challenges. How do we ensure that all students— regardless of where they live—have safe, clean, and well-resourced schools? How do we ensure that educators have the curriculum and materials needed to perform their jobs effectively and earn enough that they can afford to stay in the profession?
Tennessee’s educators recognize the disparity in educational opportunities in rural communities and communities of color compared to communities with better-resourced schools. As we emerge from this pandemic, let us reshape what public schools look like.
I was recently asked by a reporter if I thought increasing education funding would actually help address the challenges that exist in our public schools. My response was an emphatic yes. I will not believe anyone who says increased funding won’t address the lack of nurses and counselors in our schools, the outdated technology and textbooks, the disappearance of our school libraries, or the lack of math and reading specialists; I will not believe anyone who says increased funding won’t alleviate the shortage of educators in our state and reduce the student- teacher ratio.
The pandemic has laid bare the problems that have been long hidden in our public schools; now is the time for us to embrace our power as educators and lead in the efforts to secure the schools our students deserve.
TEA, we must lean into this moment and lead our profession, for no one is more qualified than we.