To Ge­or­gia’s public school teach­ers: Thank you

The Catoosa County News - - FRONT PAGE -

Dear Public School Teach­ers in Ge­or­gia:

Con­grat­u­la­tions on sur­viv­ing an­other year in the class­room.

As you take a mo­ment to catch your breath and en­joy a brief respite be­fore you start the process all over again, I hope you will re­flect on the good you do; the im­pact you have on young peo­ple; your abil­ity to make a dif­fer­ence. Yours isn’t a job. It is a call­ing.

Many years ago, I was part of an ad­vi­sory board at the Grady Col­lege of Jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia. The board mem­bers were pre­em­i­nent in their field: News­pa­per pub­lish­ers, ed­i­tors, a net­work tele­vi­sion pres­i­dent, the head of one of the na­tion’s largest ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies and busi­ness lead­ers from across the coun­try.

At the end of one of the meet­ings, the dis­cus­sion got around to school teach­ers. It turned out that each per­son in the room could name at least one teacher that had been in­flu­en­tial in their life and could re­cite why. I never for­got that ex­pe­ri­ence. That is when I re­al­ized that teach­ers are sculp­tors. Only you don’t work with clay, you shape fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

I don’t know where public ed­u­ca­tion got off track. I sus­pect it was along about the time that our so­ci­ety went hay­wire and lost re­spect for author­ity as well as a lot of our core val­ues. Maybe it was Water­gate. Maybe it was Viet­nam. Maybe we just woke up one day and de­cided that those who en­ter­tain us like ath­letes and ac­tors are more im­por­tant than those who pro­tect us and ed­u­cate us.

We ig­nore the fact that schools merely re­flect the so­ci­etal is­sues that sur­round them. Yet, we ex­pect you to shut the school house door and lock out poverty, apathy, abuse and a lack of fam­ily struc­ture and some­how mag­i­cally teach a hun­gry child from a bro­ken home how to con­ju­gate verbs.

So­ci­ety may be be­yond re­pair but I am hop­ing we can mend public ed­u­ca­tion in Ge­or­gia. I am a mem­ber of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form Com­mis­sion that has been tasked with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of look­ing at all facets of public ed­u­ca­tion from fund­ing to teacher re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion to “school choice.” I don’t know if I can make much of a dif­fer­ence — I’m still try­ing to un­der­stand all the acronyms.

As ex­cit­ing as the pos­si­bil­i­ties are that the Ed­u­ca­tion Re­form Com­mis­sion might be able to over­haul and im­prove public ed­u­ca­tion in Ge­or­gia, in­clud­ing the op­por­tu­nity to keep the best teach­ers in the class­room, I be­lieve it is safe to say that you don’t have a lot of faith that we can do it right. I don’t blame you for feel­ing that way. We haven’t al­ways walked our ed­u­ca­tional talk in this state.

Ge­or­gia has had more high-sound­ing ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sions, stud­ies, task forces and blue rib­bon com­mit­tees than a yard dog has fleas and not much to show for it. Gov. Deal says it is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent this time around. I have taken him at his word.

In the mean­time, I re­mind you that the next gen­eral elec­tions are a year away. That is when you can ex­pect our in­trepid public ser­vants to once again wax elo­quently about the fact that their mother/brother/sis­ter/ cousin was a school teacher and how they feel your pain and how hard they are work­ing for you and blah, blah, blah.

They must think we fell off the ed­u­ca­tion turnip truck. We all know that once they are re­elected it is back to busi­ness as usual which in­cludes pro­mot­ing pri­vate school tu­ition tax breaks, cozy­ing up to for­profit char­ter school man­age­ment com­pa­nies, mess­ing with cur­ricu­lum while home-school­ing their own kids and try­ing to fix a teacher re­tire­ment sys­tem that doesn’t seem to be bro­ken. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to flunk a few of them at the bal­lot box when the op­por­tu­nity arises.

In spite of all of the ob­sta­cles we throw in your way, you sol­dier on. While we are ea­ger to point out the fail­ures in public ed­u­ca­tion, no one seems to fo­cus on all the young peo­ple you have in­spired to big­ger and bet­ter things and who will one day sit in a meet­ing as I wit­nessed those many years ago at the Grady Col­lege and talk about how you made a dif­fer­ence in their lives and why.

That is why you do what you do. You make a dif­fer­ence. A big dif­fer­ence. Thank you for your ef­forts. En­joy the break. You have earned it.

DICK YARBROUGH

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