Christmas Story Metaphor

“Peace on earth, and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled.”

I hope that everyone is preparing to have a special holiday season this year with their friends and family, those loved ones who complete our lives.  This truly is one of the most extraordinary times of the year. Most of us are reminded it really is more fun to give than to receive. If you have children, it is an attitude you are forced to adopt.

I am most grateful for all the military and civilians serving our country away from home this year.  We are blessed to have young men and women willing to risk their lives so that we can be free, as well as safe and secure.  I wish for peace and harmony in the world and the eventual safe return of all our troops from foreign lands after their brave service to our country. It is clear to all rational people that diffusing terrorists and their rhetoric is necessary for freedom to truly prosper in the world. These brave leaders are merely following in the footsteps of our founding fathers.

The late Paul Harvey identified that all other of the world’s revolutions before and since were initiated by men who had nothing to lose.  The founders of this great experiment had everything to lose… nothing to gain…. except one thing…. and  they pledged it to one another in the Declaration of Independence:  “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

The inspiration of yesterday still inspires us today: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  To the memory of the patriots who paved the way during those tumultuous times, to the patriots who live today and the patriots yet to be born:  May your holidays always be filled with good times, good cheer. May health and happiness be yours in all seasons!

I wish all families had an opportunity this Christmas to spend time with the ones they truly love, whether they are halfway around the world or simply across the street. Love is the greatest gift of all.  I wish for my own family, as well as yours that this Christmas they can observe true love that lasts a lifetime beyond that reflected by our world.  If you want a magical holiday season, give yourself in love beyond what you traditional are willing to surrender.  Seize the opportunity and have the courage to tell those around you how much you care and appreciate them.

In today’s rushed society this holiday we should make every effort and encourage our friends and family as well as ourselves to reduce the many unnecessary obligations, pervasive card writing, never-ending baking, excessive decorating and needless overspending. Sharing quality time with family and friends is unmistakably more important than finding yourself severely exhausted, unable to appreciate those you love or even missing the true meaning of Christmas.

Maybe this explains why so many people have difficulty getting into the “spirit of Christmas.”  The self-imposed exhaustion, coupled with the fact that merchants have now extended the holiday season to well before Thanksgiving probably leads to Christmas fatigue and loss of spiritual significance.  This also means another holiday has lost meaning, of course maybe it is my heart that is in the wrong place.

The brave men and women who so eagerly wait for peace in the battles they fight for our security yearn for the peace at home, and peace on earth.  Let’s begin by bringing peace to our homes.  Peace on earth, which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after, can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent adherence to the divinely established order.

We are reminiscent of the Prophet Isaiah who wrote centuries ago: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6).  It is true that Christmas, the day in which we celebrate the birth of Christ, probably is not an accurate reflection of the birthday of our savior.  But anyone who seeks the true peace and lasting joy needs to reflect on the babe of Bethlehem and the sacrifice for sinners he was to become.

I am now more determined than ever to celebrate Christmas, appreciate my family and friends and remember those that risked their lives, fortunes and honor so that I could do those things.  For those that are angry year round, let this holiday season be an exception.  If you need to reconcile with anybody, friend or foe, make this Christmas an opportunity to do so.  As Charles Spurgeon preached many years ago: “May God give you peace with yourselves; may he give you good will towards all your friends, your enemies, and your neighbors; and may he give you grace to give glory to God in the highest.”

I wish you the happiest Christmas you ever had.  I hope that you have a memorable holiday and a wonderful time with those you love.  I also wish you have a safe and happy and prosperous New Year’s as well.

We should strive to be kind and affectionate to others.  If we always lived every day at peace with God, it would be the merriest Christmas we ever experience in all our lives every day in our heart.  As my wise mother, Linda Bowman Lawhorn used to remind us “he who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree.”  Jesus is the reason for the season.  But really he is the reason for every season.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  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.

dickens2

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

It appears that 2017 has been a long year for many people, and 2018 promises even more of the same problems with even more politics. That is usually not a good recipe for success. However, if there is any lesson to be learned it is that we should endeavor to get the most out of life, use our God-given talent and our abilities, be loyal, love our friends and family, and honor God. We should not simply strive to be common, but seek to be remarkable. Your life is God’s gift to you. What you do in life, is your gift to God.  Teachers understand this more than most.

This Christmas season we will undoubtedly hear the story of God’s love taking the form of man and coming down to earth. There is much more to that story. But what is amazing to me is the role that women played in the life of Jesus. The old saying is that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Rodgers and Hammerstein added another twist: the hand that rocks the cradle rules the heart. Either way, women have played such a critical role in the world, often unrecognized by the very people who have experienced their influence. Invisible to the naked eye, true leadership is in the womb, the breast, the hands, and the soul of woman.

A mother has the most difficult task, for she must take a young, impressionable human being, and emphasize in their young life the things they must learn and experience, the hurt they will inevitably feel, the sadness – this is a difficult task a mother must do. It takes a tremendous amount of strength, patience, and moral fiber to give birth, raise, and eventually let go of, a child. My mother did an unbelievable job, in a difficult situation with a strong-willed child. I am the man I am today because of the woman she is. I am a living testament to her encouragement, love and yes discipline. She instilled in me a passion to believe in myself and to do what is right, even when others around you do what is wrong. More importantly she gave me the desire to live my life with intention. What a beautiful gift to give.

Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, wrote the poem “On Children.” Here is what he said: “You may give your children your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.”

I love that thought that Gibran expresses, but I differ with him: I do think we can dream that brighter future for our children. I hope that it is a future filled with hope. I wish for peace and harmony in the world and the eventual safe return of all our troops from foreign lands. In 1983 I was deployed and wasn’t home with my family during the Christmas holiday.   It was an incredibly lonely time.

I would wish that all families had an opportunity this Christmas to spend time with the ones they truly love, whether they are halfway around the world or simply across the street. Love is the greatest gift of all. If you want a magical holiday season, give yourself in love beyond what you traditionally are willing to surrender. Seize the opportunity and have the courage to tell those around you how much you care and appreciate them.

Jesus is the reason for the season. But really he is the reason for every season. The old adage “he who has no Christmas in his heart will never find Christmas under a tree” is pretty accurate. So, from our team at Professional Educators of Tennessee to your family, we wish you an enjoyable Holiday Season and an even happier 2018!

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  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.

declaration of independence

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt designated December 15 as Bill of Rights DayThis is the day we recognize and commemorate the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which spell out our rights as citizens here in the United States of America.  That date was chosen because the Bill of Rights was originally ratified on December 15, 1791.  Our rights and freedoms as Americans are rooted in the Bill of Rights.  Unfortunately, many Americans do not fully appreciate or understand our Bill of Rights.

Future President, James Madison of Virginia, was the primary author of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, which are recognized today as our Bill of Rights.  The Virginia Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason, strongly influenced their writing. Other documents such as the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the English Bill of Rights, and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties are considered foundations to our Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights was written to provide mutual constitutional protection of individual liberties of our citizens, and to limit the power of the federal government.

Regardless of personal political persuasion or affiliation, American citizens can unite around the Bill of Rights because it communicates our basic shared values.   President George W. Bush stated, “The true [American] revolution was not to defy one earthly power, but to declare principles that stand above every earthly power—the equality of each person before God, and the responsibility of government to secure the rights of all.”  President Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to the Constitution as “the great American charter of personal liberty and human dignity.”

Limiting the power of government and safeguarding the rights of our citizens is something we must all make a conscientious effort to protect.   We should be especially appreciative for the protection afforded in our Bill of Rights against a national government gaining ground against our most fundamental rights—freedom of speech, protest, and conscience guarantees our equal protection under the law.  A free society does not just occur. It has to be consciously devised and intentionally preserved. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.

We invite all citizens and educators to celebrate Bill of Rights Day on December 15 and commemorate the ratification of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  It is critical to share the knowledge of the relevance and practicality gained through an understanding of the U.S. Constitution to the next generation.[i]

The Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

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JC Bowman in NYCJC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  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.

 

[i] NOTE:  We are glad to assist our educator members across the state in promoting awareness of the United States Constitution, through various partners and projects.  In addition, if you email our partners at the 917 Society (917society@gmail.com) they will provide copies of the US Constitutions free of charge to all 8th grade classrooms.

Singing the blues away

You remind yourself that the holidays are supposed to be a time of happiness, gathering of friends and family and most importantly optimism for the coming New Year. Yet you get inundated with reminders of the holidays that may conjure up unresolved issues like grief caused by a missing friend or family member, your own failing health or that of a friend or family member. Sometimes there is a sense of increased isolation and loneliness or recognition that there is a difference between the perception of holiday joy and the reality of one’s own life. Holidays can take a toll on even the happiest person.

From now until after the first of 2018 more than likely your life will be busier and certainly more stressful. You will have more things to do, more things to buy, there will be more traffic in our streets, stores will become more crowded, parking will become more difficult, and you will have your patience tried to the extreme waiting longer for service. Guests in your house will further add to your frustration. Heaven forbid if some person accidentally sits in your seat at your place of worship. The additional demands on our time, attention, energy and finances can be very traumatic. All of these issues come to a head during the holiday season. You want love or something like it.

Remind yourself all these issues can help you develop a strategy to tackle this short period of time. Most people struggle with holidays at some point in their lives. Just as we often struggle with life itself. It requires effort to overcome any problem. Recognition of our own thoughts and feelings helps us be successful in being triumphant over even the worst of times.

We begin our adult life with idealistic dreams of running off into the sunset, chasing whatever it is that makes us happy. We hope we are fortunate enough to reach those goals set by our youthful optimism. But for many of us we also learn we can only run so far before reality sets in. We must be extremely careful that we do not turn this optimism into pessimism, or even worse cynicism. This cynicism is often couched in anger and we hear or see the wounded cries. People become blinded by their own pessimism, then cynical of everything but their own cynicism.

Part of what makes us human is the ability to project into the future. However, do not believe for one moment you can find redemption by escaping your situation. Life is never really easy or is it? Are we not the ones who complicate it? When we complicate it do we become our own victims?

Perhaps the best scientific exploration of optimism, an incredible research study thirty-five years in the making entitled “Pessimistic Explanatory Style as a Risk Factor for Physical Illness: A Thirty-five Year Longitudinal Study”, J Person Soc Psych 55 (1988): 23-7, by C. Peterson, M. Seligman, and G. Vaillant, three main findings were established:

  1. Optimists live longer than pessimists;
  2. Optimists suffer from fewer and less severe diseases;
  3. Optimists are much healthier than pessimists.

Some of the benefits of being an optimist according to research are that we know that we will receive greater health benefits, higher quality of life–manifested by greater success, greater happiness and greater love. So, this holiday season take the time to revisit your own priorities for life. Hold on to your dreams. Never give up on thinking what was and what is and what can be. Yes we can all be winners in good times and survivors during the hard times.

If we want to relieve the tremendous stress on friends and family structures, we must make a positive commitment this holiday season to help others, as well as ourselves. We must all become promoters for hope. We need to work together to prevent symptoms of depression and anxiety from dominating our community this holiday season. We need a positive environment to help our children enjoy this most sacred season, and we all have a role to play to make sure those around us remain emotionally stable and use effective coping skills.

This holiday season take an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. When churches, synagogues, mosques, businesses, and governments collaborate, impressive things can happen to cause productive change in communities and among individuals. The impact could be of a global magnitude.

Like many I have learned what the power of faith can accomplish in an individual life. In addition, faith has traditionally played a crucial role in shaping both American institutions and civil society, and America has thrived as a model of democracy and equality precisely because of this pervasive religiosity and the traditions it helped establish. The abundance of faith based voices in the public square does not mean that the issues of the day will suddenly vanish. But the inclusion of faith based organization’s views and voices does allow communities to explore areas of consensus that are often overlooked. It provides the faith based community the opportunity to do what it does best, serving others and expanding its role in serving society.

Remember to make this a holiday season to remember. To somebody you may be just the gift they need. Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr often shared this prayer with people, and it helps remind me when I face depression.

The Serenity Prayer

 God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference;

 Living one day at a time;

 Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it:

Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2018, and stay positive!

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  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.

difficult decision

It is often said that the most important role of a board of education is to hire its superintendent.  I think that is a somewhat a valid claim.   Certainly if you value public education, you must have competent leadership managing the daily operations of the school district.  A good superintendent leads the districts educational, financial and administrative performance; facilitates the performance of all personnel; and responds to and informs stakeholders and policymakers about the performance and leadership of the district.

Having met many, if not most, Superintendents of Schools here in Tennessee, I believe we do have some excellent leaders across our state.  Probably one of the most important duties of the superintendent is to make sure district students are learning and achieving at the highest level possible.  A superintendent must understand effective academic practices and be supportive of the teachers and administrators in the district.  Leadership, vision, and strategic thinking are critical skills for every superintendent.  A successful superintendent is should also be an effective and excellent communicator.  If the only voice a superintendent listens to is his/her own, or a few members of the school board, public education will eventually lose community support.

In the last few years, I have seen some horrifying treatment of Superintendents across the state.  I have seen them maligned by anonymous message boards, attacked in the media, belittled by their own school board members, often unfairly.  I am reminded of Mark Twain’s quote:  “Great minds talk about ideas; good minds talk about events; small minds talk about people.”

Does that mean that we simply accept decisions from superintendents, without challenging them? Of course not!  We must particularly hold them accountable in regard to educational, financial and administrative performance.  However, we should provide them latitude in regards to leadership, vision and strategic thinking on how to address the performance in those areas. And we must expect them to communicate effectively to all stakeholders.

The American Association of School Administrators suggests that the superintendent, like principals, must also demonstrate a keen understanding of teaching, learning and what works for students. As a change leader, a successful superintendent should emphasize the efficient use of resources, personnel, and data to break down resistance and drive systemic change; empower board and personnel to set goals, measure results, develop accountability, and support planning, evaluation, and resource allocation.

Our state has made some incredible strides in public education.  It is an accomplishment that we should admire and respect.  It begins with the men and women in the classroom across this state, and we must also acknowledge the hard work of those who lead our schools.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  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.

 

1 embrace gratitudeEmbrace Gratitude. Simple words in this time of Thanksgiving. This Thursday we will gather around tables small and large, and reflect if only for a moment, on the kindness and blessing in our lives. We will share food and fellowship. Football games will be won and lost. Turkeys stuffed. Vegetables roasted. Pies baked and meals blessed.

Studies show that when we embrace gratitude as a daily practice, we have more positive emotions, we sleep better and feel more alive. In turn, we express more compassion and kindness to others. When we do embrace gratitude, we turn from the discouraging towards the encouraging.

A daily practice of gratitude. Sit quietly in the early morning light and reflect upon the kindness and blessings in your life. Or in the warmth of the bedroom at night, write in a journal the goodness and blessings that have been granted to you. Or before a meal, take a moment to express the kindness and blessings of the day.

Share Gratitude: The essence of gratitude is that it is meant to be shared with those who have bestowed kindness and grace upon us. In this busy, hectic, self-indulgent world, we forget to pause and thank one another for their efforts for us, for their attention to us, for their love of us. Gratitude is not measured in syllables; it is measured in connection.

Some simple guidelines allow our gratitude to be felt:

  • Express gratitude when you feel gratitude. Don’t hesitate until a perfect time, do it at the moment. The flip side of this is not to express gratitude if you don’t feel gratitude. People will see you are insincere.
  • Be full-throated: A quick thank you may leave the recipient puzzled about your intent. Be specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Thank you for all that you do for me,” say, “Thank you so much for helping with Project A, especially your insights into how to improve delivery.” Gratitude is a deep rich feeling and should be expressed as such.
  • Reach the recipient. In today’s world, we have a thousand ways of communicating with each other. What I have found is that when I include gratitude in group communications be it a town hall, social media posts or an email, the impact on the recipient is lost. A direct connection between my gratitude and the recipient is best. This includes an e-card, handwriting thank you note or a personal conversation.

I worked with a leader who would send handwritten thank-you notes to her staff when she was grateful for a job well done. Walking around the office, I noticed that these cards lingered in their work spaces for weeks, if not months, after being received. What a measurable impact this leader was having on her team.

Embracing gratitude is the act of appreciation for the kindness and blessings in our lives. It allows us to focus on the hope instead of the fear. It allows us to welcome the possibilities of the future. It allows us to know we are not alone in our journey.

Embrace Gratitude.

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(Used with permission from John Thalheimer, The Leadership Guide,  please visit his website at www.johnthalheimer.com).       

 

1 thanks photo-verse-jpg-barefoot-manI used to keep a framed picture in my classroom: “Your Life is God’s gift to you. What you do with your Life is your gift to God.” I wish every child could hear that repeated every day. And what teachers do with their gift benefits so many children on a daily basis. Teachers are often on the front line of the poverty battle. It is important that children know from where their gifts originate. This Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to be thankful for the gift of life we have and the gift of others in our lives.

I grew up with the knowledge I wasn’t any better than anyone else, but nobody else was better than me. Because my parents understood that we were all created in the image of God. I believe that we should never be intimidated by those in power. Power is perception, and people who have it over you do so because you give it to them in most instances. Bono, of the rock group U2 in a Rolling Stone interview said: “I don’t fear politicians or presidents. They should be afraid. They’ll be accountable for what happened on their watch.” Too often unelected bureaucrats exert influence over our lives and careers. We need to look closely at the issue of the legitimacy of power.

I have worked with many faith and community organizations and it seems to me that many of the problems they seek to address have one root cause: poverty. I take the problems of global poverty much more serious, and have noticed a rise in poverty in both urban and rural America.

It is the best American tradition of helping others help themselves. Now is an opportune time for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of our nation and the world. I see a passion for compassion diminishing in America. Government simply cannot meet the needs of all citizens. Faith and community organizations need help. They need your time and efforts. They need your money and support. We should embrace government partnership with faith-based organizations and other non-profit community organizations to do the work of fighting poverty and other issues.

To his credit, President George W. Bush recognized the poverty problem when he said: “The growing divide between wealth and poverty, between opportunity and misery, is both a challenge to our compassion and a source of instability. We must confront it.” “We cannot,” said the president, “leave behind half of humanity as we seek a better future for ourselves. We cannot accept permanent poverty in a world of progress. There are no second-class citizens in the human race.”

Bono added, “It’s an amazing thing to think that ours is the first generation in history that really can end extreme poverty, the kind that means a child dies for lack of food in its belly. This should be seen as the most incredible, historic opportunity but instead it’s become a millstone around our necks. We let our own pathetic excuses about how it’s ‘difficult’ justify our own inaction. Let’s be honest. We have the science, the technology, and the wealth. What we don’t have is the will, and that’s not a reason that history will accept.”

Poor and starving people are not particularly appealing news stories, but fighting poverty is and should be a moral imperative for citizens in our cities, state and nation. Educators are often on the frontlines‎.

Faith reminds us that theological apathy is not an acceptable excuse. Yes, “the poor will always be with us.” However, Jesus, in his first sermon said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

As we sit in our comfortable pews on Sunday morning singing about what it is like up there, we should remember that the poverty of spirit as equally lamentable to poverty of physical wealth. This Thanksgiving we should be thankful for both the small and large blessing in our lives. If you are a parent and your child is about to enter the world, it would be a great comfort to know that your country will use all of its resources to meet the most basic needs of all citizens, so they can succeed in our country.

To paraphase an oft cited poem, if you want to touch the face of God or His heart, it is not necessary to escape the surly bonds of Earth. Take an interest in the things that interest God. Do not be so eager to grow old or love your children as long as they will let you. Eliminate some of those nonessential things that clutter our lives. Recognize what is really essential: faith, family and friends. Embrace others. Treat everybody with dignity and respect. Lose control, let God love through you. Don’t fear the politicians. Hold them accountable. God will indeed hold us all accountable.

Think of those less fortunate this year before your Thanksgiving prayers, those in poverty whose plates are often empty. We are incapable of breaking the cycle of poverty without all of us working together. The number of hungry people in the world reached nearly 800 million, a harsh reminder that the world has yet to get serious about the challenge of ending hunger. We can make a difference, can’t we? ‎

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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. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

Kids doing homework isolated on white backgroundReading Aloud to Children

By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

Listening comprehension is vitally important if students are to achieve reading comprehension. Children who come from homes with minimal language enrichment need to hear new words if they are to become proficient readers. Reading aloud to children, even if only for a short time each day, enhances their language skills, as well as their love of literature and learning.

In 1983 the Commission on Reading was created and funded by the U. S. Department of Education to study the best way to increase knowledge and reading in children. The commission evaluated ten thousand research studies over the course of two years and reported their results in Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among the findings: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” The study supported reading aloud in classrooms throughout all grades.*

Experts agree that the way to motivate children to read on their own is by arousing their interest and curiosity. Reading exciting stories to children helps them associate reading with pleasure. When the teacher and children share suspense, emotions, and enjoy fascinating characters, their relationship is strengthened. In addition, when children listen to a teacher read, they learn grammatical form and story structure. Reading stories, poems, books and factual texts to children builds their vocabulary, attention span and knowledge base so that they can speak, read, and write more fluently.

Students need to be exposed to nonfiction, as well as fiction. Teachers may begin with simple nonfiction books to introduce science, math and social studies concepts and then move on to more difficult texts. Model reading for information and investigation by stopping and asking the children to review, define and/or comment on the material. For example, stop reading and say, “Let’s see, what did she say about insects that only live twenty-four hours?” Let the children respond and then say something like, “I wonder what insect she will tell us about next?” Sometimes teachers have the children make a picture dictionary to go along with a story, chart what happened, or create graphics to further understanding. Involving students reinforces inquisitiveness and cognitive skills. Listening to teachers read nonfiction material increases student’s ability to read and comprehend newspaper articles, directions, complicated writings, as well as to perform well on tests that require an extensive vocabulary.

Another method teachers can use when reading aloud is to pause and have their students pair off to discuss the material. When children participate this way, they practice their listening, thinking, and speaking skills. They also pay closer attention to what is read so that they will be able to talk about it. When the teacher stops, the students turn to their partner and relate what they heard, as well as listen to their partner’s thoughts. After a few minutes, the teacher begins to read again.

Ideas to Enhance Reading Picture Books Aloud to Children

1. Choose stories that you have read and that you enjoyed reading.

2. Read a variety of books.

3. Choose a colorful book that is large enough for the group of children to see.

4. Reread favorite books.

5. Read some stories that lend themselves to children repeating a phrase or filling in a word.

6. Practice reading aloud if necessary.

7. Pick an area in the room that is quiet and comfortable.

8. Sit higher than the students so that they can see the pictures and hear you.

9. Help the children settle down before you begin by leading them in a calming game or song.

10. Hold up the book and call attention to the author and illustrator.

11. Ask a question that will spark their interest.

12. Move the book back and forth so that the children can see the illustrations, or show the pictures after you read each page.

13. Read with expression and enthusiasm.

14. Let your facial expressions reflect the emotions of the characters.

15. Use character voices.

16. Pace your reading to fit the story, but read slow enough so the children can understand it.

17. Use puppets or other props.

18. Accept children’s comments or questions unless they interrupt the flow of the story.

19. If the children become distracted, stop and ask, “What do you think will happen next?” You could also do a “finger play” or have them stand and sing a song before continuing to read.

20. Allow time to review the story and/or have the children act it out.

Ideas to Enhance Reading Aloud to Older Children

1. Pre-read and select a book you think they will enjoy.

2. Read books above the average reading level in your class.

3. Select books that are appropriate for the emotional, social and intellectual level of the students.

4. Choose some books or stories that are related to the curriculum.

5. Read literature that represents a variety of writing styles.

6. Select stories with recurring conversation and some drama or suspense.

7. Aim for quality and variety, alternating books or stories that feature boy and girl characters, and those that represent various cultures.

8. Select unfamiliar stories.

9. Allow enough time to create interest in the story before you must stop reading.

10. Read the title and ask the students questions that will arouse their curiosity.

11. Name the author and illustrator and if possible tell something about each one.

12. Sit or stand so that your head is above the students and they can easily hear you.

13. Make sure your posture and facial expressions reflect interest in the story.

14. After reading a chapter, if the students appear disinterested, choose a different book.

15. Read slowly enough for the students to have time to picture the words and assign meaning to them.

16. Add props.

17. Before you begin to read another chapter in a book, ask the students, “What was happening when we finished reading last time?”

18. Have the students make predictions about outcomes.

19. Accept some questions during the reading and when finished, encourage the students to verbalize their reactions, thoughts and emotions.

20. Read intriguing books at the end of the day as a reward for hard-working students.

The classroom teacher is a powerful role model for the enjoyment of reading. When teachers demonstrate a love of reading, their students will more likely become avid reader themselves.

*Richard C. Anderson, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott, Ian A.G. Wilkinson, Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading, (Champaign-Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading, 1985), p. 23 and 51.

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Vouchers are likely to return both at the Tennessee General Assembly in 2018 and in the upcoming gubernatorial election. The issue has been debated and discussed for many years across our state. Public school teachers, administrators, superintendents and school boards, especially the members of our organization, are almost universal in opposition. Almost 90% of the children in our state currently attend a public school.   Our organization, Professional Educators of Tennessee, continues to oppose vouchers here in Tennessee.

Politicians across Tennessee, who ran for election or re-election in 2016, ran on one message: Tennessee is on the right track in public education. Nothing has changed. In fact, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Tennessee is number one in improvement in both English and math for both 4th and 8th grade on the 2012 NAEP test scores and is number one in improvement in science on 2016 test scores. We are on the right track according to state politicians, and referenced in testimony by Economist Art Laffer in the Tennessee General Assembly in 2017.

Here is some additional food for thought:

  • Private schools will eventually be subjected to new regulations. There will, and there should be, strings attached if any school takes taxpayer money. Just look at these quotes: “A public school would become any school that receives students who brought with them public monies” –Lamar Alexander, former Secretary of Education under George Bush.  His words should serve as a warning to all private and parochial schools.
  • There are very limited seats available in accredited private schools. In Florida as vouchers were expanding in 2003, it was discovered that a state of 24 million had less than 5,000 seats in private schools available. Florida was a rapidly growing state and is approximately four times the size of Tennessee. A best estimate is there are only 1200 to 1500 seats available in Tennessee at accredited private schools that may be willing to take a voucher student. We would challenge voucher proponent to produce the statistics of seats available at an accredited private school that would accept a student for a $7,000 voucher.
  • Public Schools are more than a safety net. Many schools serving poor children throughout the United States are overwhelmed by the social needs of the children they serve. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA. Our public schools are dealing with this issue, largely without additional resources or even acknowledgment by state and federal officials. Taking money from public schools, either rural or urban districts, will impact that school and community.

It is important that we remind ourselves of the purpose of public education under the Tennessee Constitution: “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.” Tennessee has a responsibility to ensure the right of all children to a quality education.

Most educators do not support the status quo in public education and strive to raise the bar every day. They understand an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. It has long been acknowledged that a strong educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. Therefore, we remain focused on our public schools in Tennessee, the teachers we serve and the students they serve.

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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.

Jay ShinThis is a picture that is four years in the making, but to understand the story is really a bond between a student and a trusted teacher. Jay Shin is a senior at Walker Valley High School in the Bradley County School System in Tennessee.  Joel Swartzel is Special Education teacher in the system.

Jay is a bright, articulate student who has a real joy for life. He has an infectious smile and comes to school every day with a carpe diem attitude. He is not the type of kid who let’s things “get him down.” He faces every day with a smile and has that rare type of courage that draws other people to him. He doesn’t allow what you see to define him and when you experience that kind of optimism in the face of cerebral palsy, you know you have a special young man on your hands. This is a glimpse into the Jay Shin part of the story.

Four years ago, a former student teacher at Walker Valley was able to land his dream job. Joel Swartzel is a Special Education teacher, and when Jay’s teaching assistant was absent, Mr. Swartzel stepped in with the daily coordination of Jay’s logistics, getting him to class and assisting him with his needs throughout the day. A friendship began to form between the two, and Jay told Mr. Swartzel he always wanted to wear a costume for the Homecoming week festivities, which includes character day at the school.

Each year, some impediment kept Jay or Mr. Swartzel from being able to dress up for the Homecoming activities. Mr. Swartzel would either have to be off campus on character day for training or Jay didn’t want to be in a suit all day long. He wanted to be Professor X from the X-Men movie. He thought he needed someone to be an X-Man to be with him. Professor X, played by the well-known actor Patrick Stuart is bald, and also is in a wheelchair.

This year, Jay’s senior year, Mr. Swartzel told Jay that if he would wear the suit, he would make sure there was an X-Man to be with him. Little did Jay know, Mr. Swartzel went to the costume store and bought the X man character “Wolverine” costume and a bald skin cap for Jay. On the day of Homecoming Character Day, Jay came to school in a suit and on his way in from the bus, there stood “Wolverine” to take him to class. As you can see, the costume is impressive but you cannot clearly see the face. The only clue is the teacher badge that he wears proudly. From the smile on Jay’s face, you can see that he will never forget this day. I can guarantee the smile on that teacher’s face is just as wide.

The heart of this story is the investment of a teacher into the life of a student. In Tennessee, every day, more than 67,000 teachers walk into our public schools, ready to tackle the responsibilities of investing in the lives of almost a million students. Their time and giving hearts in things big and small are game changers for many young people. And if the truth is told, our students usually inspire us as much as we inspire them.

Joel Swartzel said “Originally I was supposed to be Beast, but I could not find the costume in time. With this being Jay’s last year I was going to do whatever it took to make this happen. Jay is one of those kids that everyone should try to be in life. He is a joy to be around and makes everyone around him smile. When Mr. Swartzel had to opportunity to do for Jay what he does for everyone else, zero chance he was passing that up.” Thank you to Jay Shin for inspiring your teacher.

As educators, we understand this on so many levels. Even though the “rigors of the profession” are great, the moments like this help us remember why we do what we do. We make a difference every day! Thank you Joel Swartzel for reminding us of that!

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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. Follow him on social media via Twitter at @jcbowman.