Column: Give teachers respect for their integral work

Tom Watkins

Educators in Michigan today are feeling unappreciated and in may cases under siege.

As former Michigan superintendent of public instruction, I recognized the value our great educators bring to their role as teachers for our youth. From preschool, K-12, community college to the Ivy League great teachers are touching and shaping our collective future each day.

I have been reflecting on my tenure as state superintendent of late. Some berated me as a “cheerleader” for our great teachers and standing up for our public schools. I took this complaint with great pride. It was my job and passion to embrace the benefit our exceptional educators and schools were producing for our children, families, communities, state and nation while pushing for change (that led to progress) and sensible reform.

As someone who helped create the forerunner to Michigan’s first charter school, supported the establishment of countless others here and around the nation, including Florida’s first charter school and was at the forefront of blended and e-learning, I take a backseat to no one about the need for change and reform. My demand is the change be evidenced based and about teaching, learning and children and not about power, control, ideology, politics and adults.

At my urging, the State Board of Education provides the Michigan “Teacher of the Year” a seat at the board table so the voice of the teacher is always considered in setting public policy.

Be clear, rhetoric and ideology have never educated a single child. Quality teachers who have mastered their subject area, know learning pedagogy, who are passionate about teaching, learning, and children, and equipped with the proper material and support are the magic ingredients necessary for learning to occur.

Without the slightest embarrassment, I believe our quality public schools are the true Statue of Liberty of this great nation. Name another institution that truly takes the tired, hungry, poor, children who speak English as a second language or a child with a disability and gives them hope and opportunity.

During my tenure as superintendent, I produced a book about Michigan teachers. “They Help us Paint Rainbows” pairs students’ words about what makes our teachers great with student artwork, ranging from stick figures to stunningly sophisticated drawings produce by students across the state.

With the generous support from Cindy Pasky and Paul Huxley, owners of Strategic Staffing Solutions, we printed tens of thousands of copies and the inspirations books were printed and distributed free to help uplift our great teachers.

I acknowledge that not all teachers are great. I recall having some downright lousy teachers. But great teachers are the foundation on which quality education is built. I believe the vast majority of our teachers add value and make a difference by teaching and inspiring our youth need to be acknowledged and thanked.

We need to pause and give thanks to the great teachers in our state and actively engage them in helping to forge necessary change that will lead to progress for our kids.

Our teachers are feeling beaten down and we should be seeking ways to lift them up. We will not prepare our children for their future by excoriating teachers today.

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools from 2001-05. He is now an educational and business consult in the U.S. and China.