I have never shied away from sharing my Christian faith, as imperfect as it is.  I view faith as something personal, but appropriate to share with others, as long as someone is not compelled or required to conform to as a condition for employment or citizenship. We do not have a national religion, but we are still a nation that values belief in God.       

For educators, Christmas marks the half-way point in the year.  When school returns it will be a new year:  2019.   Educators will spend a few days at home with their own family at Christmas.  It may afford them an opportunity to catch up on reading as well as a chance to finish some personal chores left untended since school started.  Christmas is a special time for family, friends and faith. 

Christmas Day is one day a year we set aside to thank God for the gift of His son.  We must all eventually ponder the meaning of the life and death of a teacher from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. For those of a different faith or even no faith, it is also an opportunity to partake in the goodwill of friends and neighbors, who may be Christian.  This time of the year should reflect the best of mankind. For Christians there are five things to consider:

  1. Miracles.  We can claim Jesus is the reason for the season, but the truth is we get lost in the busyness of the holiday.  So, it is through childlike wonder we must remember a tiny baby in a manger born in Bethlehem.  And while we fully engage in myriad of events, we do not lose focus on this miracle of Jesus Christ living among us.  He is the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
  2. Message.  The hopeful message of Christmas is that we are not alone.  God so loved the world that he sent His son Jesus Christ into a world of sin to restore the brokenness between God and Man.  His gift of love is better than any gift found under a tree.    
  3. Meaning.  Without Jesus birth, His death could never have happened.  Jesus’ death made possible the forgiveness of sins, which in turn enables us to look forward to living and reigning with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
  4. Mission.  Our mission is to serve others, in love, and with grace.  As Eugene Peterson wrote: “Christian spirituality means living into the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life—children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships—and experiencing them as an act of faith.”
  5. Ministry.  Ministry is more than just work done by clergy. The Greek word in the New Testament that is often translated as “ministry” is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “service.” The ultimate example of ministry is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus of his own free will gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. His entire life on earth, and ultimately His death on the cross, was about others.  Ministry means to serve.   

Live life by those beliefs and values. Love God. Love each other. Love the world. Love the least. Make disciples of others.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.  Mother Teresa said: “Give your hands to serve, and your hearts to love.”  That is the path forward for faith, and the “riveting, redemptive, and revolutionary story of God, who left His home to bring us home, and more profoundly, to make us His home” added Nathan Edwardson. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He is a lifelong educator.

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French writer André Gide penned one of the most notable quotes when he wrote: “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” Gide was a depraved man, according to the standards of that day, and even as well as our own standards today.  His quote was indicative of someone searching to be himself, without betraying his personal battle over his lack of ethics.  It is similar today to many political endorsements.

I am always astounded at candidates that some groups choose to endorse, or groups who endorse certain political candidates.  Some endorsements can be very damaging to political candidates.  This leads to the question, why would the political candidate seek such an endorsement or accept money from an organization in which they do not share values?  Perhaps that candidate is in a failing political campaign and needs the money for a fledgling campaign?  Perhaps they are finally embracing their true values.  Is it a betrayal of values to even seek such an endorsement if you do not agree with the goals and objectives of the organization?  Most people probably would think so.   A pro-life candidate, for example, would probably not seek an endorsement from a pro-abortion organization or vice-versa.  Such a candidate would be branded a hypocrite.

The personal character of a candidate still matters.  Values such as honesty, reliability, and sincerity matter in life, and they matter on the campaign trial, especially when we elect people.  We need to elect politicians who say what they mean and mean what they say.  Elected officials who sell out their own values create cynical and dismayed citizens, alienate voters, and undercut their own credibility.  It is akin to the fruit of the poisonous tree analogy in the legal world.

Not only are many candidates willing to sell out their own values to the highest bidder, they are also likely to sell out their constituents once elected.  The insider game of election funding has impacted the well-being of our government.  The public policies that gets enacted if we keep electing these types of candidates, will only worsen.   We have seen good legislation stymied for untold reasons and transparency is no longer an option.   A vigorous competition of ideas should be welcome as it is a symbol of an effective system of government. When we fail to elect men and women of character, we get politicians committed to upholding the status quo and their own political preservation.  If that is the case both the fruit and the tree are poison.

Professional Educators of Tennessee does not endorse political candidates.  We work with everybody to strengthen public education.  Our members will choose, who they believe is the most qualified candidate at the ballot box.  They also know that we will never use dues dollars to fund the advancement of any politician, political party or agenda. While we may inform our members of candidates’ positions on educational issues, we do not tell our members how to vote or use our members’ dues dollars to pay for political campaigns. However, we do routinely monitor and inform our members of education-related legislative issues, and alert them of any legislation that has a direct impact.  We testify on legislation and work with agencies, elected officials and policymakers to develop and implement comprehensive strategies that address complex legislative, legal and regulatory problems impacting education statewide on behalf of our members. We do not spend tens of thousands of dollars to push for the advancement of non-educational causes.

Our political process must be welcoming to all citizens, resulting in representative, receptive and responsible government.  Politicians must be honest in who they are, and who they will be in public life.   We must ask those who are seeking political office if they really are who they say they are, or is it just a mask that can be stripped away?  Values still matter.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. 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.

 

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In the year of our lord, thirteen fourteen, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Scotsmen and won their freedom.

The most memorable character, in my opinion, outside of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, was the character, Stephen. One of the great lines from Stephen was when he was describing the battle about to be fought: “The Almighty says this must be a fashionable fight. It’s drawn the finest people.”

Stephen, my hero from the aforementioned movie Braveheart, (and maybe I like it is because of my Irish heritage) added: “In order to find his equal, an Irishman is forced to talk to God… The Almighty says don’t change the subject; just answer the @#*& question.  Of course, Wallace himself says, “As you’re lying on your death bed, would trade all your days, from this day till that, for just one chance, one chance at FREEDOM!!”

However, freedom without values is anarchy.  So yes, individual character does in fact matter.  There remains a real tension between spheres of commonality and social virtues and spheres of individuality and personal virtues. However, there are areas which deservedly lie in the public realm and those which ought to be left to individual choice.

Oliver Williams and John Houck in their book “Virtues in a Democracy” wrote:  “And, while there are frequently differences in interpreting the exact meanings and implications of prevailing virtues…virtues do provide sound and shared foundations for consensus formation, community endeavors, public policies and moral standing.”

In our elections, it is important that we are wise and elect those who best demonstrate virtue and reflect our shared values.  There are four cardinal virtues – justice, wisdom (prudence), courage (fortitude), and moderation (self-control, temperance). These are inherent foundational laws. If these moral values and commitments are as compelling as virtues are, they remain the foundations of moral discourse in society. They are indispensable guides to our actions. Statements which push new moral claims not absorbed into the set of shared virtues — have little or no standing, despite the age in which we now find ourselves living.

In 1788, James Madison asked the question: “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks–no form of government can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”  Madison understood the battles that were ahead for a nation.

Our society works best when we recognize the need for shared values. Shared values are much deeper than principles rooted in popular opinion. Those who live for the moment are building their house on sinking sand. Those who only live in the present are incapable of seeing things in perspective. They do not fully grasp the relationship between means and ends, principles and practice. They are often self-centered individuals believing that only they can be the judges of their conduct, choosing what is best and right for them at the expense of society.  This not only hurts families and communities, it also destroys the fabric of our society. That’s why Madison added “we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”

We fought some great battles in 2017.  Some of these battles were fought politically, socially and culturally.  We will undoubtedly see even more battles in 2018.  However, we also had some celebrations to go with our victories and some good times to go with the bad.  We are eagerly preparing for the legislative session to kick off in the Tennessee General Assembly.  Then, the election season gets underway.  In 2018, we will have a very quick legislative session in Tennessee.  In education, we have found policy enacted quickly often fails to be implemented correctly.  So there are many battles still left to fight here in Tennessee.    We should choose the best people to fight for us.

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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. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman