I serve educators as the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

I have never been an advocate of strikes, particularly in the public sector.  Beginning last year, and in recent days, several media outlets have contacted our organization about “teacher strikes” in Tennessee.  Members of our organization have always believed that educators have the right to teach without being forced to join any particular organization, and that strikes or work stoppages are detrimental to children, parents, the community and the profession. 

Strikes are rooted in the erroneous Machiavellian belief that the end justifies the means, it is also emphasized in the works by Saul Alinsky.  Most educators understand the important role that our public schools play in society.  In many cases, public schools offer the critical support necessary to maintain student health, nutrition, and safety, including students with severe intellectual disabilities and serious health conditions.  This includes many children living in poverty, and those who are homeless. Professional activists and agitators that urge educators in our state to strike do not care about these children, and truth be told, have little concern for the professionals in our classrooms. 

The former mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, an ex-union organizer wrote in a Washington Post editorial that a teacher strike hurts families and kids.  He said: “under today’s circumstances, a strike isn’t what we need to improve our schools.”  He is correct.  A strike is a throwback to an archaic factory model of governance.   More importantly, public servants usually have a higher expectation associated with their trusted role.  Governing magazine’s Heather Kerrigan points out: “Teachers, firefighters, and police are the public workers who people feel a lot of empathy for because of the challenges of their job.”  She adds: “I think that public opinion and tolerance level for public-employee strikes is probably fairly low.”   

So, as you read or hear buzzwords like “collective action,” “sickout” or “strike,” remember that it is critical we avoid alienating the public.  The old expression rings true: “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”  However, we can and must inform citizens through a more positive means about significant issues impacting our public schools and the children we serve.  Educators do need to be more vocal about spending priorities at the federal, state and local levels.  It is why educator associations like ours are vital, and why we have been engaged in the debate. 

Tennessee has made tremendous investments in public education in the last decade.   Not including new investments projected by Governor Bill Lee in his new budget, Tennessee added $1.5 billion in new dollars to public education from 2011 to 2019 under Governor Bill Haslam.  There is still much more work to do.  We must continue to invest in our educators and teacher assistants, and critical school staff, making sure those dollars reach their pockets.  We must work to reduce testing and give districts other options to measure student achievement.  We still need to work to create a simpler and more fair evaluation system.  We must address student discipline issues that are spiraling out of control.  We survey our members on a regular basis and these are issues of importance across the state according to educators in Tennessee. 

However, it really does not matter our opinion about strikes:  Teacher Strikes have been illegal in our state according to Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) since 1978.  In TCA 49-5-606., Unlawful Acts include that it is illegal for educators to engage in a strike.  In addition, it is illegal to urge, coerce or encourage others to engage in unlawful acts as defined in this part.  The next section of the law 49-5-60., Strikes – Remedies offers more clarity:When local boards of education have determined which employees have engaged in or participated in a strike, the employees may be subject to dismissal and, further, shall forfeit their claim to tenure status, if they have attained tenure, and shall revert to probationary status for the next five-year period. Any professional employee who engaged in, or participated in, a strike and who is not a tenured teacher may also be subject to dismissal.

Public education in Tennessee wins when we all work together through civil discourse to address our considerable issues.  Education is the great equalizer for all children in the state.  Passionate and effective teachers, principals, and superintendents must lead with creative solutions to problems, and not with outworn strategies from the industrial age. In the 21st-century, we must be policy driven, mindful of economic concerns, providing realistic answers to difficult challenges.  Adversarial tactics spurred on by outside groups, with dubious agendas, simply will not benefit Tennessee educators or children.       

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, 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.

The old television show M*A*S*H had an opening song called “Suicide is Painless.” Many people do not know the origin of the title song, but is based on a scene in the movie upon which the show was based. A character, Capt. Walter Waldowsk, was given a placebo rather than an actual drug, as he planned to take his life. In the movie, the medication did not cause harm.

Unfortunately, too many people in our world are indeed inflicting harm and end up taking their own lives. The pain they cause goes well beyond the pain inflicted upon themselves. Suicide is not painless. Death leaves survivors.

Mental health issues are real, and have been ignored for far too long in our society. The stigma attached to mental health encourages people to hide genuine problems, which only manifest later, creating further troubles for themselves, their loved ones and possibly society – if left untreated. David Dobbs wrote about how culture profoundly shapes our ideas about mental illness focusing on the amazing story of Nev Jones, who says we should call this stigma what it is, discrimination.

“Men are notoriously reluctant to ask for any kind of help, and that is especially true when it comes to mental health,” according to writer David Levine. And the research bears out his hypothesis. Most of those in mental health and social work tend to focus their work on children, women and older adults. Men simply get left out, either by choice or the lack of experts in this arena.

Gender plays a role in many diseases, including depression. “Male and female brains have differences,” according to Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum. “Some psychiatric disorders are more prevalent in men, like autism and schizophrenia, while depression and anxiety are more common in women.” However, many men suffer from untreated depression. The Mayo Clinic says, “Male depression often goes undiagnosed and can have devastating consequences when it goes untreated.”

In the United States, suicide is the 10th-leading causes of death. That means someone dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes. Recently, I had a very close friend take his own life. He defeated leukemia twice, but could not defeat the physical ailments that accompanied it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 22 percent of the annual suicides in the United States are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. In fact, we lose an average of 20 veterans by suicide every day. This includes active-duty military. Ninety percent of those who die due to suicide also have a diagnosable mental health disorder at the time of their death. Our military fought for our freedom, and risked their lives to keep us free. Some come home, some don’t come home, and some don’t really ever come home.

Psychology Today recently pointed out people with mental health difficulties remain among the most stigmatized groups. Suicide prevention has to be a priority for everybody. We must destroy the societal imposed shame placed on those who seek help. We must fight for increased guidance counselors in our schools. We have to encourage men to seek help when they need it. If you need help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 800-273-8255.

Steven Hinshaw writes in his memoir, “Stigma breeds shame. Stigma breeds silence.” His solution is to talk about it. I wish more people would address this subject. I wish my friend would have picked up his phone and called me. People need to know that they are not alone.

J.C. Bowman is executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.

Tribute to a Life Long Friend

This is a Celebration of the Life of Jeff Wagner.  And what a Life Jeff Wagner lived! I can share many stories about Jeff, as can all in this room.   

  • There was how he got me to stay at his house while we were kids, so he could get his Mom to make French Toast.  Even as adults he would get me to come to Tampa with the premise, “Mom will make us French Toast.”  For the record, Mrs. Wagner makes the best French Toast in the World. 
  • I could share the stories of how we used to double date in high school, and practice in advance those smooth dance moves we used in high school to impress the ladies.  Michael Jackson was never threatened by our skills.  However, Devo or the B52’S might have learned a thing or two.   
  • I have to share one of my favorite stories.  Jeff was voted Most School Spirit at Cleveland High School, in our hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee.   Go Blue Raiders.  Our Senior Year, we were playing the Ooltewah Owls, a rival school.  Jeff got this idea that we should spray paint a sign on a giant bed sheet and hold it up during the game.  The sign that Jeff chose for us said “Pluck the Owls” it was clever then, I think it is clever now.  Unfortunately, the school administration at Ooltewah High School were not amused.  We were asked to leave by some very nice police officers.  But the good times did not end there:  you see we spray painted the sheet on my parent’s carport.  And the paint soaked through the sheet and “Pluck the Owls” was a permanent fixture for a long time at my house despite the many scrubbings Jeff and I engaged in.  That was Jeff.    
JC and Jeff

Whatever I am or hope to be, I owe in part to my friend Jeff Wagner.  No matter what talent an individual possesses, or what internal strength he or she may possess, without others, we can accomplish very little in this world.  And as Jeff and I both learned in our Christian faith, a strong supportive group of friends is necessary in this world.  

When we find others who believe in us, we accomplish much more in life.  Jeff always believed in me, and I believed in him.  Chances are you believed in him too.  People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. He didn’t care about your race, your gender or your faith.  Jeff made everyone around him feel special. 

In 2003, Jeff confided to me he had leukemia.  Jeff beat leukemia, not once but twice.  But it took its toll.  I told him at the time I had not shared his illness with anyone, and he said “J. C., share it with everybody, I need their prayers “.  That too was Jeff. 

It would be a mistake to ever define Jeff by a disability caused by leukemia.  You see we all have hardships and challenges in our lives.   If not now, at some point as we age or encounter injury or illness, we will eventually need the help of someone.  There was a divine plan, not just in Jeff’s life, but in our own lives as well.  Jeff had a motto that inspired the city of Tampa, Florida and thousands across this nation:  Finish Strong.   I always believed his greater message was to make the invisible, visible. 

Because of Jeff, we all learned to look after each other. In all of these efforts, you were there.  All of you.  When there were problems, you sustained him.  But he sustained us even more.  Death ends a life, not a relationship.  The only way to take sorrow out of death; is if we were to take the love out of life. Our love for Jeff will continue.  Don’t rush the grieving process, allow others to offer their support. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

This is not “Goodbye” to family and friends, Jeff would tell us today.  He would tell us that we must look forward.  One day we will all be reunited.  Our faith reminds us while we can’t be together here on earth, that one day we will together in heaven. When we get there in the very presence of God, only happy tears will flow.  I believe that.  I believe it with all my heart. 

Jeff was an amazing man, and an even more amazing friend.  When I think of Jeff, I am reminded of what William Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet:

“When he shall die, take him and cut him out into stars and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.”

The prophet Isaiah reminded us to look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.  Tonight, when I go home, I will look in the sky from this day forward and look among the stars.  

When the sun goes down, and the stars come out.  I will look to the heavens for my friend Jeff Wagner and one day we will really celebrate.  We may have French Toast, dance a little, and knowing Jeff:  I think he will meet me with a sign.  That too would be Jeff. 

At least there are no carports in heaven. 

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JC Bowman grew up in Cleveland, Tennessee.  He was part of the Legendary CHS Class of 1981. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author is properly cited. 

Governor Bill Lee will give his first State of the State address on Monday, March 4, 2019. The speech is highly anticipated, as it will signal to the state the administration’s priorities for the immediate future. It is where campaign promises, either become realities or go to die. He will undoubtedly address issues across the board, from roads to mental health to criminal justice, and all things in between. My interest will be squarely on public education.

What do I expect the Governor to say about education?

  1. His administration will focus on getting students ready for work.
  2. He will work to strengthen the public education system.
  3. He will look for innovative and student-centered strategies for public education.

How will he do that? Here is what I suggest he might say on Monday night:

He will stress the need to build better connections between labor and education. This will mean facilitating improved linkage between school districts, community and technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and local industry. Meaning the state must assess our progress towards the Drive to 55 Goal. Which may include outreach to middle school students about their goals and aspirations. This is likely why one of the first assignments given to the new Education Commissioner, Penny Schwinn, has been to meet with students. Likewise, we will want secondary students to start thinking about their career. Governor Lee will probably push toward greater access to high-quality dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities in technical fields across our state. Work-based learning may be referenced. Governor Lee sees this as an opportunity to help students develop the practical abilities that help them perform in project-based environments, learn to work with others, and grow the discipline needed for success in a competitive workplace. This will require new partnerships between industry and our schools, and may facilitate a more concrete connection between labor and education, which is a direction that the federal government has taken the past few years. The state will also need to expand and improve offerings in STEM.

Governor Lee will likely continue to highlight the work of his predecessors, namely Governor Bredesen and Governor Haslam, in looking at ways to strengthen the foundations of our public education system. It is uncertain if Pre-K will be included. I would argue that he will look at some of the efforts underway and consult with State Representative Bill Dunn on this matter. All success in public education hinges on quality instruction, so it begins with our educators. We all agree that every student deserves highly effective teachers and administrators. So, it would be no surprise to hear the Governor talk about his plan to better develop a pipeline to secure educators here in Tennessee. Compensation is the key to recruitment and retention. Our teacher compensation model needs to be competitive nationally. I expect the Governor to send a message to educators that he recognizes and appreciates their efforts, and he will work to see they are paid for their efforts. I also expect that the Governor will stress the need to build upon Governor Haslam’s efforts in literacy. We know that school safety will also be a priority, as well as the need for additional school counselors. It is important that focus in counseling goes beyond mere college and career, but also into helping students with mental health issues—-especially children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Governor Lee must address the testing issue. Too many policymakers and stakeholders have been waiting on a message from the governor about how he plans to improve our assessment system, to ensure that our metrics are empowering and informing, not inhibiting quality instruction, while providing accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students.

On the innovation front, the question is, will he or won’t he bring up parental choice, specifically regarding school vouchers and/or education savings accounts? The administration has signaled more of a wait and see approach thus far. If he plans to bring up school choice, it is more likely to be done in his first term. There has been some indication that the votes are simply not there for a proposal in the Tennessee General Assembly. The Governor is more likely to discuss changes he envisions in creating a modern high school. He is correct that for the last 50 years the way high school has educated students has largely remained unchanged. He may suggest that it is time to embrace new, flexible school models in our high schools. This means he must also discuss supporting locally-driven flexibility and innovation. On the campaign trail, he argued for the need to break down the barriers that have held our teachers, school leaders, and school districts back from creative solutions to the unique challenges of their communities. I would not be surprised to see something like innovation grants from the state for our districts. The question is whether he is willing to make some adjustments to testing, like a pilot project that allows some districts to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT Suites as a means of assessment in high performing districts. Lee understands when we empower school leaders to bring new solutions to the table and hold them accountable for results, we all win. By piloting innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles, he could send a huge message across the state. Hopefully, Governor Lee will grab the bull by the horns on school finance and discuss the possibilities of a school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. Because of our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies, businessman Governor Lee understands better than most policymakers the required formula that will support teachers, fund facilities, and facilitate innovation and technology, while looking to better connect K-12 education with workforce needs.

I expect the speech of a lifetime from Governor Lee on Monday night. The State of the State is his one opportunity to lay out for all Tennesseans why we are the best state in the nation for education and in turn, the best place to raise a family. Tennessee continues to be a state that is moving forward.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, 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.

It is easy to argue that student discipline in public education is out of control.  And in many districts across the state, it clearly is a huge problem.  A recent headline in The Tennessee Star stated:  Metro Nashville Students So Out of Control Teachers Fear for Their Lives, SROs Fleeing from Alternative Schools, Educators, Officials Say.  The article was written after a shocking Teacher Town Hall, hosted by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.

Lack of student discipline, inadequate administrative support, and lack of respect are frequently cited why teachers leave the teaching profession, almost as much as salary and working conditions.  The situation is clearly getting worse, despite all the feel-good policies enacted by some school boards.  Old fashioned discipline is gone, replaced with fads and trends.  In Tennessee, some legislators are pushing for legislation that is likely to make matters even worse.

The exodus of many veteran Tennessee teachers may have eliminated part of the solution and acerbated the problem, along with an influx of new administrators.  However, that is a simple explanation and a somewhat faulty logic. Worse, it lays the blame for continued societal problems at the feet of public education yet again.

It is true, public education has its issues, from design to execution, but every problem faced by society gets manifested in our schools. Educators work incredible hours, doing thankless tasks that other professionals do not have to do.  Many people have jobs with specific skills and also have a lack of acknowledgment and a shortage of appreciation.  But educators may just win the prize for wearing a multitude of hats. We need more community support.

Teaching is not an eight-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week job. There are many duties that educators tackle that do not require pedagogical skills or experience in the classroom but are necessary for the profession. Teachers need a strong immune system to protect them from exposure to every possible illness in a classroom. Not only that, teachers must comfort and guide those students with little to no support at home.  Teachers spend their evenings and weekends making lesson plans, grading papers, and other extracurricular activities. Teachers often spend their own money on classroom supplies, decorations, and food for their students.

It would be awesome if every educator had a positive and supportive working environment where they could thrive personally and professionally, and where they were free to exercise their expertise and explore the full limits of their talents. Alas, that is not the world we live in.  Every day across Tennessee, our educators work with children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Policymakers and stakeholders at all levels should make it a priority to work together in order to reduce excessive educator workload, at the same time providing salary increases that will actually go into the teachers’ paychecks and not just to the district coffers. However, getting student discipline under control may be a bigger challenge.

News Channel 5 revealed a confidential report where a Nashville law firm warns the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) that it would become “difficult, if not impossible, for the district to retain qualified and exemplary employees.”  If Nashville is an example, other districts around the state should enact totally different policies.  If MNPS is a model district for any other system, then other districts may soon find themselves in a similar predicament. Administrators, teachers, parents, and students deserve better leadership there.

Student discipline needs the attention of policymakers across the state.  Failure to act quickly and responsibly will only continue to erode support for public education and see quality educators flee the profession.  It is time to address student discipline in a more comprehensive fashion.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, 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.

I am a very positive person.  I am “that person” who jumps out of bed in the morning excited to just be awake.  That can be annoying to my wife.  Especially if she hasn’t had her coffee.

I rarely feel the need to be blatantly critical of bad legislation.  I will normally talk with the bill sponsor about how we can support their legislation, and/or suggest subsequent changes.  However, there are two pieces of legislation, which will be heard in the K-12 Subcommittee on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, that I think folks need to be aware.  We can all agree that teachers are underpaid, overworked and underappreciated.  However, I simply cannot reconcile the continued barrage of top-down legislation by the Tennessee General Assembly with the needs of educators, which merely add to the workload.  Especially, given the likelihood, it will not help students.  Here are two bills just this week:

HB 0405/SB 0107.  Adverse Childhood Experiences Assessment.We can all hope that no child is ever suspended or expelled from public schools. Every day across Tennessee, our educators work with children who have experienced physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.  However, this proposed legislation does little to prevent and address the consequences of adverse childhood experiences or promote healthy development and well-being among children, youth, and families.  This legislation places greater responsibility in addressing societal issues squarely upon the school, teachers, and administrators by limiting the ability to discipline misbehavior.  Research is needed to understand the variable effect of adverse childhood experiences across children and move toward evidence to guide recommended prevention and treatment approaches in public education, as well as in the wide range of community-based contexts in which adverse childhood experiences assessment, education, and interventions might take place.  Legislators should take note that a great deal of variability exists within risk groups, further assessment of positive and negative deviance in outcomes and effects for otherwise similar groups of children might prove especially valuable, and would ideally occur in the context of longitudinal studies. Existing longitudinal studies should consider including adverse childhood experiences and related variables for this purpose.  This should be done before a kid ever gets in trouble if this is a concern.  Transparency is the key to any disciplinary issue, and the process must be explained and understood.  However, the cause and effect of not disciplining certain children may create more problems in schools.  Jody Stallings, a nationally renowned teacher recently wrote: “The best way to keep students in school is to increase the number of suspensions.” He added: “In many schools, kids can bully peers, assault teachers, sexually harass classmates and create major disruptions; yet nothing is ever done about it. Then we worry about test scores and achievement gaps while the biggest obstacle to fixing those things is right there in the classroom every day: disruptive students. There is a solution. Put them out.”  That is a harsh assessment, but probably has more of a chance of success than this suggested legislation.  While there may be valid reasons to study the consequences of adverse childhood experiences a child is dealing with, and we must show compassion to all children, this legislation is like asking a fireman to analyze the cause of a fire before extinguishing the blaze.  When you have a fire, you want the firefighter, not the arson investigator.  We think the legislation is worth a discussion, nothing more.  In the end, it does little to address chronic misbehavior issues.  We oppose the legislation that mandates and requires ALL LEA’s to create a policy requiring schools to perform an Adverse Childhood Experiences Assessment before a disciplinary issue involving suspension, including in-school suspension or alternative school, and expulsion.  If a district chooses to adopt this policy, they can do it now without further legislation.  A better message for legislators to send would be that students must realize that their actions have consequences.   And for parents to help re-enforce that position.

HB 0767/SB 0820 Required Training in Restorative Justice.  On the left, Restorative Justice represents a perceived fight against racism.  On the right, the guidance represents a bungled top-down government intervention that allows misbehavior to go unpunished.  Rather than engaging in political rhetoric, we examined the comprehensive study by the RAND Corporation on this subject.  The RAND Corporation is considered the gold standard in social science research.  The findings: restorative justice led to safer schools, but also hurt black students’ test scores.  We can all agree that disciplinary processes must become more transparent.  The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education on December 21, 2018, withdrew their statements of policy and guidance on Restorative Justice.   In light of this action, we OPPOSE mandatory training for ALL employees in an LEA.  Any district that wishes to engage in such training should be free to engage in training.  The results should be studied and shared with the state.   The state has a responsibility to vigorously enforcing civil rights protections on behalf of all students. The robust protections against race, color, and national origin discrimination guaranteed by the Constitution, Title IV, and Title VI remain unchanged and continue to be vital for educational institutions in the United States.  This legislation, if rejected will not change those policies.

Julie Marburger, a sixth-grade teacher at Cedar Creek Intermediate School in Texas describes what many educators are experiencing when she posted: “People absolutely HAVE to stop coddling and enabling their children. It’s a problem that’s going to spread through our society like wildfire. It’s not fair to society, and more importantly, is not fair to the children to teach them this is okay. It will not serve them towards a successful and happy life.”

One teacher in Florida was even fired for giving students zeroes who didn’t hand in work. Teacher Diane Tirado stated: “I’m so upset because we have a nation of kids that are expecting to get paid and live their life just for showing up and it’s not real,”

K-12 Chairman John Ragan, Representatives Curt Haston, Iris Rudder, Teri Lynn Weaver, Mark White, and John Mark Windle understand I hope, that a top-down approach simply does not work in education.  We need discipline policies that districts and schools themselves choose.  Our teachers need more support, not more unproven fads that require more work by educators for unproven results.   Lack of student discipline, inadequate administrative support, and lack of respect are frequently cited why teachers leave the profession.   This legislation does not help.  Let your legislators know your opinion.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, 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.

The third Monday of February is recognized as Presidents’ Day in the United States. Established in 1885, the day was originally intended to celebrate the birthday of the first president of our country, George Washington. Today we use it to commemorate all 45 Presidents of the United States. However, no American president has ever enjoyed unanimous support from our citizens. So, the holiday is celebrated, but not universally beloved by all people.

George Washington warned his countrymen of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in his Farewell Address as President of the United States. That advice fell on deaf ears, and as much as Washington was held in high esteem, it was neglected. It is worth noting that political parties in the United States stem partly from a political feud between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists, led by Secretary of Treasury Hamilton, wanted a strong central government, while the Anti-Federalists, led by Secretary of State Jefferson, advocated for states’ rights instead of centralized power. The growth of political parties was an American response to political conflict. That explains a lot about where we are today, as Hank Williams Jr. might remind us, “it’s a family tradition.”

Many presidents have had their race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation debated. And religion is almost universally questioned when the faith issue is brought up. Our former leaders, or at least their very being, are no longer even accepted at face value. Lyndon Johnson made an astute observation by pointing out that the “presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.” Nobody is born to be President of the United States and the on-the-job-training is unlike any other endeavor the office holder is likely to face.

The 45 individuals who served as Presidents of the United States have shaped our country. Their stories are really only a part of the American story as each individual reflects on the times in which they lived. The National Portrait Gallery is the only public collection to feature portraits of all of the U.S. presidents on display. The White House collection is not always accessible to the public and not all of the presidents have portraits on continual display.

The presidency has its own song, Hail to the Chief, traditionally played by the U.S. Marine Band. It is played to announce the arrival of the President, who is America’s Commander in Chief. It was first played to honor an American president as early as 1815, when a Boston celebration marking the end of the War of 1812 fell on Washington’s birthday. However, the tradition was really established in 1829 when the song was played for President Andrew Jackson. It was only haphazardly used. First Lady Julia Polk ordered it played for President James K. Polk and has been used pretty much since his time in office.

Honoring those who occupy or occupied the White House does not mean you agree with the office holder on every issue. It is a day we, as Americans, set aside annually to reflect on ourselves and the great accomplishments of our nation. We remember the Presidents of our country. Is it an antiquated holiday? Perhaps. However, despite our admitted shortcomings, we should reflect often on our heritage as the greatest nation in the world and those who helped lead us to that esteemed position. So, on this President’s Day, with refrains of Hail to the Chief in the air, let us hope that the best is yet to come for our nation.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

The Committee

Face it, we are all sick of government committees appointed by elected officials.  I think it is always wise to seek input from all constituent groups on issues; but in the end, the people elected individuals to make tough decisions for the benefit of all.  That’s why our Founders designed our government as a representative democracy.  If we do not like the decisions of elected officials enough times, we get to vote those individuals out of office.  Building consensus is a good strategy; abdicating to mob rule is a bad strategy.  Forming a posse is also ill-advised, unless you are planning a remake of Tombstone.        

Passing the buck is never the solution to tough issues.    There are times when getting stakeholders from a cross-section of opinions together is helpful in understanding the issue and finding solutions to problems you may not know exists makes a lot of sense.  In fact, a lack of proper knowledge of an issue results in the passage of bad policy and terrible legislation.   Unfortunately, the objective seems to be for many politicians to punt the issue away for a period of time, so they can stay focused on other issues that interest them.  The lack of a long-term agenda makes committee work a short-term solution.  Rarely do we analyze for effectiveness and evaluate this committee process.         

I had to laugh when I saw a Twitter post from Nashville Mayor David Briley when he said: “Together, we can build a focused, research-informed strategy to ensure all Nashville students, regardless of race or income, receive a great education” talking about his informal education advisors.  You know, those “unelected people you didn’t vote into office.”  What makes it worse, Mayor Briley hasn’t really stepped in to offer a strategy to ensure more efficient use of tax dollars in light of recent reports in local media involving Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).  This does not include a recent sexual harassment settlement.   Perhaps Mayor David Briley, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, School Board Member Amy Frogge,  Investigative Reporter Phil Williams and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury  Justin Wilson should form a committee to ensure financial integrity in regards to MNPS’s financial operations and compliance with applicable statutes, rules and regulations, and/or its record of efficiency and effectiveness.  Just a suggestion for Mayor Briley.   

I tend to be agnostic when it comes to personalities or personnel.  My time in the United States Marine Corps taught me the value of teamwork and working together for the collective good, with whomever is there.   The objective is to educate children.   Period.  End of Discussion.   If the Mayor of Nashville feels that the trained professionals at the Metro Nashville Public Schools and the elected School Board cannot address the issues of the lowest-performing schools in the district, why does he think the unelected “Kitchen Cabinet” he selected can do a better job?  What can these nonprofit leaders and community advocates accomplish that professional educators in the MNPS system are not already doing?  And why are those “leaders and advocates” not already doing it?   Honestly, I think it is insulting. 

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, asked the multi-million-dollar question: “How did a system designed to provide government of, by, and for the people devolve into a system in which bureaucrats unaccountable to voters (though exquisitely accountable to political players and special interests) produce masses of law that was never voted on by an elected official?”  It’s time to ask David Briley that question.   We have witnessed enough suggestions by experts and committees.  Maybe we should start listening to parents, teachers, and taxpayers?  They are a pretty formidable committee when they get a voice. And then in the immortal words of Elvis Presley it will be time for “a little less conversation, a little more action.”

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, 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.

In 2016, Tennessee made a major breakthrough in helping dyslexic students in our state.  State Senator Dolores Gresham and State Representative Joe Pitts led the effort to require school districts to screen students in kindergarten through second grade for dyslexia with a program provided by the Department of Education.  Students who present with symptoms of dyslexia clearly benefited from the passage of the original legislation, however we need to strengthen the law. In 2019, we need to revisit and refine legislation to ensure districts are in compliance in helping dyslexic children and teachers have access to training.    

State Representative Bob Freeman of Nashville, a strong advocate on this issue, has filed House Bill 253.  It is worth noting that the 2016 Legislation, which we called the “Say Dyslexia” Bill, passed both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously, with broad bipartisan support.  Data shows that one in five students, or more than 200,000 in the state have characteristics of dyslexia. This legislation will further help children to receive proper intervention.

Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) is highly regarded across the nation for its efforts and research on helping dyslexic children.   One of the key items missing across the state has been identifying teachers who are trained in dyslexia intervention.  So, many students are still not getting the assistance they need to address the issue.  Professional Educators of Tennessee offers its members access to professional development on the subject through their online portal.  The organization leaders believe the statistics are so overwhelming regarding the consequences of not dealing with dyslexia.

Research indicates that dyslexia has no relationship to intelligence. Many people with dyslexia have gone on to accomplish great things. Among the many dyslexia success stories are Thomas Edison, Stephen Spielberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Charles Schwab.  Keira Knightley, Salma Hayak, Joss Stone, and Alyssa Milano are successful women diagnosed with dyslexia.  Dyslexia affects you regardless of race, gender, or political affiliation.

The International Dyslexia Association points out, “Research demonstrates that additional direct instruction provided appropriately, beginning in kindergarten through third grade, can help all but the most severely impaired students catch up to grade-level literacy skills and close the gap for most poor readers.  Assessment is the first step in identifying these students early to make sure they receive the effective instruction they need to succeed.”  Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D., and Karen E. Dakin, M.Ed add: “Dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, or extra support services.”

Tennessee is recognized nationally for its willingness to change education strategies to reach all of our students, and make a high-quality education available to all students.  It is time to help our dyslexic children realize the dream of All Means All, and our commitment is truly to all children.  We will be supporting additional legislation to help our dyslexic students in the state.  For more information on dyslexia visit the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity website at http://dyslexia.yale.edu/

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, 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.