By TEA Executive Director Terrance Gibson
Like all of us who were drawn to this profession, I often reflect on the great educators who poured into me. As a student I questioned why these “mean” educators would make me learn certain things that would not contribute to my dreams of being a NASCAR driver, lawyer or engineer.
Of course, I felt they were mean because, like our current TEA members, they would never let students cut corners, feel sorry for themselves, or use their background as a crutch to not achieve.
I took a special interest in poetry and remember my teachers telling me how poems and literary works would serve me well in life with lessons and symbolism. The poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling has been particularly applicable to various times in my personal and professional life. Over the past months, I have found that the poem also captures the education profession as we face a roller coaster of emotions, overcome numerous obstacles and create joy where we can find it in our work.
Throughout the summer and fall, educators strove to maintain quality learning environments in the face of an ongoing health crisis, divided communities, lack of resources and being blamed for things they cannot control. Despite it all, educators kept their focus and remain steadfast in their dedication to students.
We have seen our profession attacked, belittled and undermined, yet Tennessee educators persist and continue to ensure student achievement while saddled with a broken funding system and ever-increasing resource gaps.
For many years, our TEA has stressed the lack of funding and investment in our students, teachers and schools. As the state undergoes an official review of the funding system, school boards, directors and parents must collaborate and realize the shared interest of the funding issue.
Educators see daily the impact on learning caused by inadequate funding. The lack of sufficient resources forces educators to invest their own money in classroom supplies, erodes public confidence and causes attrition across all job categories in education.
Directors are tasked annually with the tough exercise of allocating an insufficient amount of resources and funds. Local school boards find themselves going before county commissions and city councils annually to beg for funding to support students and teachers in hopes of providing an equitable education. All of this could be avoided if the state did its part to fund public education.
We must be active and engaged in the state’s process as we advocate for an equitable system and increased funding. Students and educators deserve a funding commitment that prevents a caste system, recognizes students’ socioeconomic challenges, cuts ties between test scores and school funding, gets Tennessee out the bottom in per-pupil funding, and includes a mechanism to frequently monitor equity of the system.
As the state hosts town hall meetings, opportunities for public comment and subcommittee meetings, it is our obligation to our students to be vocal and share our expertise of what good school funding should look like. This is a true opportunity to pay it forward for current students and generations to come.