Dear public-school teachers in Georgia: Congratulations on surviving another year in the classroom.
As you take a moment to catch your breath and enjoy a brief respite before you start the process all over again, I hope you will reflect on the good you do, the impact you have on young people, your ability to make a difference. Yours isn’t a job. It is a calling.
Many years ago, I was part of an advisory board at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia. The board members were pre-eminent in their field: newspaper publishers, editors, a network-television president, the head of one of the nation’s largest advertising agencies and business leaders from across the country.
At the end of one of the meetings, the discussion got around to schoolteachers. It turned out that all in the room could name at least one teacher one had been influential in their life and could recite why. I never forgot that experience. That is when I realized that teachers are sculptors. Only you don’t work with clay, you shape future generations.
I don’t know where public education got off track. I suspect it was along about the time that our society went haywire and lost respect for authority as well as a lot of our core values. Maybe it was Watergate. Maybe it was Vietnam. Maybe we just woke up one day and decided that those who entertain us, like athletes and actors, are more important than those who protect us and educate us.
We ignore the fact that schools merely reflect the societal issues that surround them. Yet, we expect you to shut the schoolhouse door and lock out poverty, apathy, abuse and a lack of family structure and somehow magically teach a hungry child from a broken home how to conjugate verbs.
Society may be beyond repair, but I am hoping we can mend public education in Georgia. I am a member of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission that has been tasked with the responsibility of looking at all facets of public education from funding to teacher recruitment and retention to “school choice.” I don’t know if I can make much of a difference — I’m still trying to understand all the acronyms.
As exciting as the possibilities are that the Education Reform Commission might be able to overhaul and improve public education in Georgia, including the opportunity to keep the best teachers in the classroom, I believe it is safe to say that you don’t have a lot of faith that we can do it right. I don’t blame you for feeling that way. We haven’t always walked our educational talk in this state.
Georgia has had more high-sounding education commissions, studies, task forces and blue-ribbon committees than a yard dog has fleas and not much to show for it. Gov. Deal says it is going to be different this time around. I have taken him at his word.
In the meantime, I remind you that the next general elections are a year away. That is when you can expect our intrepid public servants to once again wax eloquently about the fact that their mother/brother/sister/cousin was a schoolteacher and how they feel your pain and how hard they are working for you and blah, blah, blah.
They must think we fell off the education turnip truck. We all know that once they are re-elected it is back to business as usual, which includes promoting private-school tuition-tax breaks, cozying up to for-profit charter-school management companies, messing with curriculum while homeschooling their own kids and trying to fix a teacher-retirement system that doesn’t seem to be broken. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to flunk a few of them at the ballot box when the opportunity arises.
In spite of all of the obstacles we throw in your way, you soldier on. While we are eager to point out the failures in public education, no one seems to focus on all the young people you have inspired to bigger and better things and who will one day sit in a meeting as I witnessed those many years ago at the Grady College and talk about how you made a difference in their lives and why.
That is why you do what you do. You make a difference. A big difference. Thank you for your efforts. Enjoy the break. You have earned it.
Contact Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; and online at dickyarbrough.com or facebook.com/dickyarb.