Uncertain judge

I know that taxpayers see the best and worst of educators. The truth is that the vast majority of educators are incredibly dedicated public servants who deserve our praise. In surveys we conduct, it reveals that working conditions are a bigger issue to teachers than salary.

Let me share one example: We have discovered that several school districts are now using the term “Leaves of Absences” while investigating any allegations against teachers. During the “tell your side” conference, the teacher is informed of the supposed allegations to which he/she is supposed to respond. Soon thereafter, a “Written Reprimand” is issued and at times, the teacher is found responsible of violations of school policy and penalized certain days of pay. This occurs without sufficient notice of the charges or due process rights afforded within an impartial hearing. We believe this is improper and may in fact be actionable. We are very concerned about these methods which in essence dilute, and at times, abuse the due process rights of a tenured educator. The right to be heard before an impartial hearing officer, along with the appeal rights to the Board and Chancery Court are obviated. We believe this to be contrary to the legislative intent of and due process rights provided by Tennessee Code Annotated §49-5-511 and Tennessee Code Annotated §49-5-512.

Let me put it into something more relatable for the average reader. Imagine you walk into your job today and are questioned by a supervisor. You are told you are being sent home because a subordinate told you something. Keep in mind you followed company policy and reported the conversation which involved illegal activities to authorities, as required by company policy. Now the “Leave of Absence” is under media scrutiny, you cannot defend yourself. To make matters worse, the supervisor can take as long as he wants to investigate the issue. The longer you stay at home, the more damaging to your career. Rumors begin to circulate that you must have done something wrong, which you clearly did not. The supervisor purposely skirts company policy, by using the term, “Leave of Absence.” Ask yourself this question, would you want to work for that company? More importantly would anybody want to work for that company?

While this sounds complicated. It is really simple: Follow the Law. People should not play semantics with words. If a teacher or administrator has done something that warrants a reprimand or suspension, then address that issue and allow due process to take place. When districts try to avoid following the law, the recourse will eventually and most certainly end up in court. When that happens students lose, teachers and administrators lose, and most importantly taxpayers lose.

My advice to school districts. You may not like the law. You may not agree with the law. But as long as it is the law…. follow the law.

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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.

frustrated student

Bullying is a matter that adults and students alike must take seriously.  “Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions,” according to the American Psychological Association.  They add, “The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.”   In addition, bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose according to the US Government website StopBullying.gov.

School violence and bullying is a global problem.  The countries we are most familiar with, South Korea and the United States, recognizes the growing issue.  Almost one of every three students (32%) in South Korean elementary, middle and high schools are victims of bullying according to a Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs study.  In the United States it is almost one out of every four students (22%) report being bullied during the school year according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.  Some victims of school violence and bullying never reveal their secret.

When a 15-year-old high school student killed himself in the Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province in South Korea, it sparked a national discussion of bullying. South Korea had started using surveillance cameras to limit bullying opportunities.  The student left a note that listed the names of five schoolmates who had repeatedly bullied him for two years.  His note said he was beaten by them in locations that were not covered by surveillance cameras.  In Knoxville, Tennessee in December 2017, a video of student Keaton Jones went viral drawing massive celebrity support against bullying.  Jones, alleges that he is often bullied at school. “They make fun of my nose. They call me ugly. They say I have no friends,” Keaton emotionally describes to his mother.  He even said sometimes things get physical at lunch.  “They poured milk on me and put ham down my clothes,” he recounted, fighting back tears. “Throw bread at me.” Then Keaton asked a question we all wonder: “Why do they bully? What’s the point of it?”

What can policymakers and stakeholders do to address bullying?  We argue for a three-point strategy.  1) We must promote awareness of bullying.  We have to confront the harmful impact of school violence and bullying.  2) We must establish systems to report school violence and bullying.  We must also provide support and services to those who are impacted by bullying and school violence.  Finally, 3) We must require professional development that educates teachers and students in order to identify, prevent and respond to school violence and bullying.

Let’s send a global message that bullying and school violence is unacceptable.  It will take a united effort, at the local level, to the state level and even the national level.  We should share ideas of what works in each school.  We need a clearinghouse to share ideas on how to stop the problem.   When you see people make threats, spread rumors, attack someone physically or verbally, and excluding others be that person who stands up for others.  Together, we can stop bullying in its tracks.

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Solee Lee, is an International Exchange Student from Daejon, South Korea.  She is an intern at Professional Educators of Tennessee.  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.

mlk

On April 4, 2018, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King was shot and killed in Memphis. Tennessee has played a seminal role in Civil Rights, that we often fail to appreciate.

The ground breaking 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was the case in which the Supreme Court Justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. It signaled the rightful end of the “separate but equal” principle set forth in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. The Ferguson case constitutionally allowed laws barring African Americans from sharing the same buses, schools and other public facilities as whites — known as “Jim Crow” laws— and established the separate but equal doctrine that would stand for the next six decades.

Linda Brown, then a nine-year-old girl, became the face of the issue. Ms. Brown died at age 75 on March 25, 2018. Her national legacy in Civil Rights went far beyond public education. Brown said in a 1985 interview: “I feel that after thirty years, looking back on Brown v. The Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes and aspirations of our young people greater, today.”

Few people know the role Tennessee played in Civil Rights and public education. Avon Williams, Jr., a Knoxville, Tennessee native, became a cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1949 and began a long career in civil rights activism. In 1950, four years before the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, Williams filed Tennessee’s first public school desegregation suit such case when he sued to integrate the public schools in Anderson County, Tennessee. (McSwain v. Board of Anderson County).

Williams’ first cousin, Thurgood Marshall, was the chief lawyer for the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP. Marshall later became the first African-American to serve on the US Supreme Court. Williams and Marshall worked closely on racial discrimination cases. Williams went before the Supreme Court seven times to argue cases involving discrimination in public schools, public housing or other public accommodations. In 1955, Williams, Marshall and Z. Alexander Looby, a fellow African American lawyer focused on civil rights, filed suit Kelley v. Board of Education against the Nashville city schools on behalf of African American children.

Looby and Williams were without doubt the most prominent civil rights attorneys in Tennessee during their lifetime. The Journal of African American History stated that “Looby and Williams’s work in school desegregation cases alone encompassed every major case in the state (with the exception of Northcross v. Board of Education) and entered the highest realms of legal activity. Federal judges at the circuit, appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court levels cited and considered many of their cases as the post-Brown v. Board of Education (1954) litigation world unfolded.” In 1968, Avon Williams, Jr. was elected to the Tennessee State Senate. He was one of the first African-Americans to serve in that body since the Civil War. As a Senator, he worked to put guidance counselors in elementary schools and to establish kindergarten classes in Tennessee. Tennessee has a proud, but often untold history in Civil Rights, which greatly enhanced education in our state.

Racism, bigotry and vitriol hate have no place in a modern culture. All children are created in the image of God. Martin Luther King, Jr. poignantly stated: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Does character still matter? Of course, it does.

For centuries, our country has attracted people in search of a share of “the American dream” from all corners of the world. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, yet it appears that there is no longer a consensus about what that should mean. If you step into our public schools today, the many different cultures are on full display.

Americans like Martin Luther King Jr., Linda Brown, Avon Williams, Alexander Looby, and Thurgood Marshall helped integrate America, and move the nation past the old paradigms and backwards thinking that dominated our society. We need to remember and reflect on that history. More importantly, we need to fulfill our destiny as a nation where all citizens can realize the benefits of integration and equality of opportunity regardless of the color of their skin. The dream of Martin Luther King Jr. did not die in Memphis in 1968, it is still alive in 2018.

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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.

JC Bowman in NYC

We now live in a world where borders apparently don’t matter. The activities of corporations operating in multiple countries simultaneously, as well as travel being readily accessible, and networking possibilities of the Internet and social media render national borders somewhat less significant.  Then we need to ask the question:  Is culture still relevant?

Yet, William Bennett, a rather brilliant man and former US Secretary of Education, made an observation last year that politics and public engagement in social issues can make more of a difference than he once thought. Bennett is rather philosophical, and his opinion still carries much weight among policymakers and media.

To take it a step further, examine the words of Richard Shweder: “I believe that all the good things in life can’t be simultaneously maximized. I believe that when it comes to implementing true values there are always trade-offs, which is why there are different traditions of values (i.e., cultures) and why no one cultural tradition has ever been able to honor everything that is good.” People fail to consider there is no perfect society despite our historical attempts at creating it.

Debates on culture also include our conflicting orientation on matters such as secular versus religious, our concept of freedom along with our trust or distrust in the leadership of those who govern us. Culture impacts the success or failure of a certain aspect of society, such as health, education, institutions, justice, national security as well as other policy issues.

Thomas Jefferson wrote of the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal; endowed by their creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This endures as the powerful philosophical and moral foundation of the American republic itself.

On the subject of freedom in culture, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address he delivered on January 6, 1941, stated that American’s looked forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. Roosevelt may not recognize the current age, but his points are worth a reminder.

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
  • The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

Samuel Huntington, a political scientist at Harvard University, suggested that there are a set of eight cultural “civilizations” who are a major influence on current culture–Western, Eastern Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, and African. This explains our present-day struggles across the nation and the world, as well as repeated conflicts between countries and cultures.

Another major theme Huntington puts forward was that we have moved from a bi-polar competition between communism and democracy/capitalism to a geopolitical battle fostered by a multi-polar world of competing civilizations. In regards to immigration in our own country, that is manifested by the failure of people to assimilate into American society and culture.  He argues that could eventually change our nation into one where multiple languages, multiple cultures, create multiple peoples.   This is also a direct conflict with the concept of the founding principles of our nation.

Huntington wrote: “September 11 gave a major boost to the supporters of America as one people with a common culture. Yet the war to deconstruct our culture has not ended. It remains unresolved today whether America will be a nation of individuals with equal rights sharing a common culture, or an association of racial, ethnic, and cultural groups held together by hopes for material gains.”

Orwellian logic from which the principle that “All animals are equal” gives birth to the transformative postscript: “but some animals are more equal than others” when we are only focused on material gains. Equal rights are a common goal that culture should embrace.  As we consider culture, we have to see how this becomes applicable to public education, and what role should public schools plays in building a common culture, if any?  The time for discussion is now.

The United States is a diverse country, racially and ethnically, as well as in how people choose to organize themselves socially and politically. It can be argued that our public schools are integrally situated to communicate society’s values, such as individual responsibility, patriotism, integrity, objectivity, justice, respect for others, being on time, doing a good job, working well with others, being a good citizen, and exercising democracy in government and other interactions.  Americans have thus far kept our republic, and created it to be resilient and strong.  However, the United States will remain free only with relentless vigilance and public engagement, which must be transmitted in our culture.

Certainly we can do more to improve opportunities for all students. Public education has done an excellent job of positioning our state, nation and students for success.  Our ethnic identity and culture is rapidly changing.  The question we must ask ourselves, is that always for the better?  If we are not careful, we may risk losing what made America the envy of the world and a continual place of liberty and opportunity for our citizens. Educators must be the ones that provide hope, opportunity, and optimism for the subsequent generations.  In the end, history will prove that culture matters.

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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.

An education committed solely to acquiring skills and knowledge required for specific jobs — calculus, chemistry and American government, for example — has limitations. Schools that also instill adaptable skills students will need in many workplace contexts — written and oral communication, critical thinking and creativity, for example — can provide a better path to 21st-century success.

Five Fairfax County, Virginia high school juniors conveyed this message during a recent visit to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters, where they showcased their Advanced Placement Capstone™ project on how well the United States’ modern education system prepares students for post-college success.

AP Capstone is a two-year course of study developed by the College Board that complements discipline-specific advanced placement classes such as world history or macroeconomics.  The capstone classes equip students with skills increasingly valued by colleges, including an ability to conduct independent research, validate the reliability of sources and work collaboratively. About 1,100 high schools around the U.S. and abroad currently participate in AP Capstone.

The five students who presented their research on education were accompanied by 30 others from Oakton High School, along with their AP Capstone teachers, Elizabeth Snyder and Eliot Waxman. The students gave group presentations on subjects ranging from the competition between brick-and-mortar stores and e-commerce, to conservation efforts to end the illegal ivory trade.

Each group selected a research topic that fired its curiosity; the group that chose education did so because “[they] all had some sort of passion” for the subject and shared “a desire to learn about education and to improve the system because it is such a major part of [their] lives,” according to junior Samantha Condro.

Three female students stand next to a projector screen in the ED library addressing an audience.

After agreeing upon an education focus, the group moved through prescribed steps, which included (1) identifying perspectives through which to consider the topic, (2) delving independently into the research, (3) writing individual papers, (4) sharing findings, (5) synthesizing information, (6) drawing conclusions and (7) collaborating on a presentation.

Facing the ED audience, Samantha described an American education system in which “first . . . we work K─12 to get good grades; then we decide where we want to go to college based on the majors it provides, the size and the location; then we work through college to get good grades; and eventually we graduate and are ready for the workplace.” Recalling much of her education to date, junior Gabrielle Shapo said, “I grew up regurgitating what was on the chalk board.”

With this model, workforce readiness is no guarantee, group members said. Gabrielle cited research from the American Association of Colleges and Universities describing a gap between employers’ and students’ ratings on preparedness: The former gave students low scores and the latter higher ones. Disparities existed in all 17 areas surveyed, including ethical judgment and decision-making, working with people from different backgrounds, and applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

In today’s education system, skills and knowledge required for specific jobs trump the teaching of adaptable skills, group members reported. Students acquire some of the latter skills in traditional academic classrooms, but more often in science laboratories and extracurricular activities. Standardized tests, the group noted, assess mastery of the curriculum but not adaptable skills. This can hinder the ability of colleges to gain a complete picture of their applicants, and can thwart employers’ ability to hire students grounded in job-specific expertise and adaptable skills.

Junior Sean Tieff recognizes a place for lecture-based classrooms: “They have gotten their fair share of criticism, but they are a good source of learning,” he said.  Sean noted that creative educators can weave the teaching of adaptable skills into a standard academic curriculum, by, for example,  providing more labs, offering more opportunities to learn and study in  groups (such as via AP Capstone!), and encouraging internships and outside-the-classroom learning.

Two male students stand in front of a desk and bookcase. One is speaking to the audience, the other listening.

Partnerships of educators and corporate officials can narrow the gap between what students learn and what employers want them to learn, group members suggested; employers can identify omissions (although corporations should not prescribe the curriculum).  Corporations can also fund new teaching methods and training needed for students to learn better adaptable skills.

Following the presentation, group members answered questions from the ED audience and heard suggestions for broadening their research. One questioner suggested group members interview teachers to learn why adaptive skills are not more widely taught.  (The bureaucracy? The budget? Pressure to focus on information in standardized tests?)

A surprise audience member, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, related the students’ ideas about “adaptable skills” with “experiential learning.” Agreeing with its importance, she encouraged them to complete internships and work in their fields as they pursue their education. Junior Alec Stall described positive vibes upon completing the AP Capstone project.  “I am a big procrastinator,” he said. “But this class was really rewarding, because when I got that paper done and I found out how all of my sources connected . . . and how all of the information flowed together . . . that was such a great feeling.”

Nancy Paulu is a writer and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach. All photos are by ED photographer Joshua Hoover.

Civil Rights Battles in Tennessee helped shaped the nation, and impacted public education in countless ways.

prof classe 05Passion and energy within any organization or company starts at the top with the leadership.   The moment when an employee begins to feel unappreciated is when morale begins to suffer.  Lack of respect and lack of support are often cited as reasons why people leave their jobs.  Other reasons include excessive workload, concerns about management, anxiety about the future, especially job security, income and retirement security, lack of recognition, continuous change and compensation that does not align with exceptional performance.  Anxiety and anger are key ingredients of low morale.

A decade ago, the Gallup Organization estimated that disengaged employees cost the economy as much as $350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness and other low morale issues.  An alarming 70% of American workers are not showing up to work committed to delivering their best performance, and this has serious implications for the bottom line of individual companies and the U.S. economy as a whole.  Of the 70% of American workers who are not reaching their full potential, 52% are not engaged, and another 18% are actively disengaged. These employees are emotionally disconnected from their companies and may actually be working against their employers’ interests. They are less productive, are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.

Psychology Today reports that burnout is not a simple result of long hours. The cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when you’re not in control of how you carry out your job, when you’re working toward goals that don’t resonate with you, and when you lack social support. If you don’t tailor your responsibilities to match your true calling, or at least take a break once in a while, you could face a mountain of mental and physical health problems.

In public education, we see low morale often mentioned in criticism of the job.  This reveals that administrators have a lot of work to do in addressing low morale and burnout with their teachers.  If successful in improving morale, leadership will see higher productivity, better retention, reduction in stress, and an improved workplace for all.  In education, the workplace is where children learn.  Having contented and energized employees who are willing to go the extra mile for students and the school district would be key to having an effective learning environment.  In education, like any organization, people are the most critical resource.

In order to avoid low morale or burnout, leaders must effectively communicate their vision.   Employees must not only understand, they must buy into that vision which will help determine how an employee feels about their work and work environment.  A 2010 Canadian survey mentioned that the most effective staff morale boosting behaviors of managers are to 1) talk less and listen more; 2) give clear expectations; 3) have more informal interaction with staff; 4) assign tasks to staff based on skills rather than office politics; 5) give more rights to staff; (e.g., give staff more opportunities to make a decision for certain tasks) and 6) to respect people with greater expertise. Lastly, an important way to understand the current employee morale climate is by administering culture or climate surveys regularly.  People must feel a sense of attachment to their work, only then will they care about their performance.

These are complex issues and intertwined with various contributing factors. Just as there is no lone factor that explains low morale or burnout, addressing it will require a combination of solutions, and require a substantial amount of time and effort.  Leaders must remain attentive to the signs of low morale and burnout.  Only by focusing on creating an environment that allows employees to perform up to their skills and potential can an organization or company hope to avert low morale and burnout.

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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.

Research records the very first school shooting incident in the United States occurred in Greencastle, Pennsylvania at Enoch Brown School in 1764. The first school shooting I can recall was carried out by Brenda Ann Spencer in 1979. Spencer killed two and wounded eight at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California. When asked by a reporter why she shot at the school, she heartlessly replied “I don’t like Mondays.” The Boomtown Rats popularized that phrase into a song. Most people probably never knew the background.

We, as a society, romanticize depression, violence and death on social media and in video games. Then politicians and talking heads on television and radio pontificate on issues that many really do not understand and are unwilling to confront. Unfortunately, we live in a culture which devalues life where we become fascinated by one event and we do not see the long-term effect. We are then free to move on, leaving families and communities in real pain still struggling for real answers.

We have to bravely confront mental health issues. Social media in particular has gone from support of people who are clinically depressed to glamorizing the ideas of sadness. Samara Khan writing in Ethos News points out that “depression is a very real, and often very debilitating mental illness that starkly contrasts with the pretty pastel photos on social media.” Dr. Mark Reinecke, chief psychologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, told The Atlantic: “During the vulnerable years during which adolescents seek out self-affirmation and recognition from others, this new, easy promise of being recognized as strong, beautiful, and mysterious…can be very tempting.” Reinecke concludes “Too often, it just leads to more teenagers believing and feeling they are depressed, self-pitying, self-harming.”

Sheriff Scott Israel, of Broward County, Florida is pleading with lawmakers to give police and doctors more power to involuntarily hospitalize people for psychiatric evaluation over violent and threatening social media posts. However, the reality is many mental health professionals cannot even get a person with active psychosis and suicidal ideation hospitalized. Our current health care situation forces hospitals to turn people away because they are over-crowded, understaffed, underfunded, and have no authority to keep anyone anymore. We need to strengthen our laws and focus on mental health. In addition, more guidance counselors in schools and increased professional development for all teachers to help identify problem students should be considered.

The majority of school shootings are done by males. Researchers seemingly cannot understand why this occurs. We don’t dare address the topic of the psychological castration of the modern male or to combat what the academic world calls “toxic masculinity.” Author and philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers has repeatedly challenged the issue for nearly two decades. Sommers noted a Bureau of Justice Statistics report on the decline in violence at schools, is at a historic low. She observed “that while violence may be built into the core of a small coterie of sociopathic boys, most boys are not sociopathic. As far back as 1965 Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called attention to the social dangers of raising boys without benefit of a paternal presence. He wrote in a 1965 study for the Labor Department, “A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Alexa Curtis wrote in Rolling Stone: For teens who “are battling mental health issues, witnessing the end of a life” as easily as television portrayed it “could help desensitize kids to this very serious matter.” She then adds: “There will always be people who feel like they have no one to talk to, and those are the people most at risk whom we have to figure out how to reach.” Who can children talk to when they have the urge to hurt themselves or others? If the answer is nobody, then more teenagers taking their lives and the lives of others will only continue. Chances are they don’t like Mondays, they probably won’t like any other day of the week either.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee is 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 describe myself with the following identifiers: Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Grandfather, US Marine, Educator and Friend. Follower of Christ. It is who I am, and who I was, and all that I hope to be.

A retired Marine Sargent describes Marines this way: the Marine Corps uniform doesn’t come off when our active duty is over. We wear it daily in our attitude and our love of Corps and country. We wear it on our tattoos and our bumper stickers. We wear it on our hearts. I am proud of my service to our country and the values the Marine Corps reinforced in my life; I took those attributes with me to the classroom, as an educator in Tennessee: Honor, Courage, and Commitment.

Honor is the foundation of character. It empowers us in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; to respect human dignity; and to have respect and concern for each other. It represents the maturity, dedication, trust, and dependability to act responsibly, be accountable for our actions, fulfill our obligations, and hold others accountable for their actions. Courage is the mental, moral, and physical strength that sees us through tough challenges, overcoming fear, to do what is right. We adhere to a higher standard of personal conduct, to lead by example, and to make tough decisions under stress and pressure. Commitment is the spirit of dedication and determination that leads to professionalism and mastery of our profession. Commitment promotes the highest order of discipline, personally and professionally. It allows us to build pride, concern for others, and an unrelenting determination to achieve a standard of excellence in every endeavor.

Honor, Courage, and Commitment. Most educators possess the same strength and integrity as Marines. Teaching is about caring for our profession, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to our students. Teachers are an exceptionally important aspect for any society for a number of reasons. Our role in society is both beneficial and significant. Teachers play an extraordinary part in the lives of children during the formative years of their development. The importance of teachers cannot be understated. For this reason, educators are held to higher standards. Ductus Exemplo is a Latin term that translates into “lead by example.” It means behaving in a manner that inspires others. We must lead the next generation in our role as educators.

Our organization supports, and requests that the Government Operations Committee approve, the State Board of Education’s revised permanent rule concerning Educator License Discipline. There is no higher duty than making sure that our children are safe and protected in the classroom. We have never received a call, email, or letter asking for our organization to keep a pedophile in a Tennessee classroom. And we would reject such an overture, if such a request was made. Very few teachers will be impacted by any change in the rule. The changes will provide teachers with clear guidance and accountability, ultimately serving the educator and student alike. We are particularly encouraged by the intent of the rule which is to establish a broadened, but focused explanation of the safety standards in place to protect our students and to clarify them for our educators. It protects our profession.

The OREA report on Educator Sexual Misconduct has made clear that Tennessee has a fractured, ambiguous reporting system that has allowed educators who have engaged in sexual misconduct to slip through the cracks. This hurts the overwhelming vast majority of teachers who must not only be confident in the abilities and character of themselves—but each other. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly, but above all: character matters. Professional Educators of Tennessee has been following closely the review of Rule 0520-02-03. We are supportive of the revisions, which we believe enhance the uniformity of discipline, define the terms utilized, and clarifies, simplifies and explains the teacher disciplinary process. Bringing clarity to this issue has been long overdue.

We take the issue of teacher licensure very seriously. Licensure is primarily a function of the state and it is the gatekeeper to employment. It is so important that this is done correctly and transparently. As always, we will continue to work with the Tennessee Board of Education, the Department of Education and the Tennessee General Assembly on our concerns on licensure issues, and to ensure that our educators are treated fairly and impartially.

Failure by the Government Ops Committee to take positive action on the licensure issue will erode confidence in public education, and necessitate additional action by the legislature to close the loopholes that make it possible for teachers dismissed for abuse to find another teaching job in another district or state. I implore Government Operations to approve the Educator Licensure Rule and send a message to those who engage in inappropriate sexual misconduct with students that they are not welcome in our Tennessee classrooms. Show the citizens of our state that Honor, Courage, and Commitment matter not only in the battlefield and our classrooms, but also right here in the Tennessee General Assembly.

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