Over the past few years, I have heard the statement from many of my teacher colleagues that they are not encouraging their children or their students to enter the teaching profession. Their sentiment is alarming to me on two different levels--it’s a profession that I love and to which I have dedicated my livelihood, and teachers are the best ambassadors for our own profession. WIth that said, I can completely understand where they’re coming from.
There is an unrelenting focus on standardized tests, and with that comes a slew of related problems. Teacher effectiveness, including their ability to keep their jobs and in some school systems receive bonuses for “exemplary performance,” is tied to these tests. Educators are now also expected to be tacticians in the classroom as the profession is becoming increasingly more specialized. It’s a monumental challenge to keep students engaged in their learning, finding authentic, real-world tasks for them to complete, and designing a curriculum that is challenging to every student, every day in a classroom that is full of students with mixed ability levels. Understandably, enrollment in teacher education programs at universities has declined sharply and nearly half of all teachers leave the profession within the first five years. Add to that teaching in Coffee County Schools, where experienced teachers have set a precedent of transferring to nearby higher-paying school districts.
It’s crucial, now more than ever, for the citizens and elected representatives of Manchester and Coffee County to put our egos and prior history behind us and focus on the future. With the teaching profession becoming more challenging every year, we must do everything within our power to attract qualified and energetic educators to this area. This begins by offering a competitive salary--which is unfortunately difficult to accomplish because, by law, any salary increase given to Coffee County teachers must also be given to Manchester City and Tullahoma City teachers. If we look at this situation with an altruistic mindset, it’s easy to see why Manchester City Schools needs to either consolidate or unify with Coffee County Schools; however, this will not occur without support from the voters. Pressure needs to be placed on the Manchester Mayor and Board of Aldermen and on the Coffee County Commission to come together and work on a viable solution that is amiable for all involved parties.
Another crucial component of improving the teaching profession in this county is more easily solved. There needs to be improved communication and trust between the Coffee County School Board and the County Commission. When I talk to members of the commission, I hear from them that the school board doesn’t put teachers as a top priority in their yearly budgets. They see items like refinishing the track at Raider Academy and purchasing more Chromebooks as superfluous expenses because the communication isn’t there for them to understand why these expenditures are needed. Likewise, when I talk to members of the school board, they point their fingers at the commission and say that they’d love to give teachers raises but they don’t have the final say in the matter. Who gets stuck in the middle of this mistrust are the students of Coffee County because they are dependent upon these two governing bodies getting along with each other.
Is it too much to ask for the members of the education subcommittee of the commission to attend all of the school board meetings? Likewise, shouldn’t the members of the county school board reciprocate and attend all of the county commission meetings? Being present at each other’s meetings would make a grand gesture in improving the dialogue between the two.
Whether the candidate is running for mayor or alderman of Manchester, the Coffee County School Board, or the Coffee County Commission, our children are our hope for the future, and they are depending on a symbiotic relationship among these three governmental bodies. In this election season, I encourage the voters in this county to seek out and support candidates who will put students first. Anything less is a disservice to them.