Coffee County Schools’ Opening Day is today. As the Coffee County Schools Education Association (CCEA) Vice President, I was asked to give a short speech to the entire school system. Normally, the CCEA president has the pleasure of giving this speech, but she is out on maternity leave and I am honored to take her place.
When I thought about what I could say that will be both inspirational and impactful, I reflected on two individuals who have inspired me. One is Angela Maiers, who gave a powerful TEDx speech five years ago, which lead to the launch of her website, choose2matter.org. The other is Jahana Hayes, the most recent recipient of the National Teacher of the Year award. Below is the transcript of my speech, which you can also find on my website, tnteachervoice.blogspot.org.
When I was first hired to teach here at the high school a decade ago, I never would have imagined that I would have the opportunity to stand in this spot and address the greatest, and most dedicated, group of professionals in the state. As you prepare your lessons for the first few days of school and begin focusing on how to best educate our future society, there is something that I want you know. It is something so simple, yet so complex that we don’t get to hear these words often enough.
During the course of your teaching career, you will work with hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Unless you are supremely talented, it’s not likely that you will remember all of their names; but they will remember yours. I would like to invite you to reflect, for a moment, on your favorite teachers when you were a student. Now, think about the qualities that made these teachers so great, and why they stand out to you. For me, these teachers took an interest in me personally, and they challenged both my intellect and my curiosity. Whether you realize it or not, you express your voice as a teacher with every lesson that you teach. Every day, you matter to the students sitting in front of you--many of whom may have overcome untold obstacles just to make it to your classroom each day.
You also matter a great deal to our profession. Three months ago, I had the pleasure of attending the National Teacher of the Year ceremony at the White House. The recipient of this award, Ms. Jahana Hayes, mentioned in her acceptance speech that “As educators, we have a unique opportunity to share our empowering stories with students and communities to elevate this profession. Many states are facing challenges attracting and retaining teachers. We must lead the charge and change the dialogue surrounding this profession...Everyone has something to contribute, but we can not do it alone. Find your gift. Tell your stories. It truly does take a village.”
I’m sure that the teachers here will agree that what would be most helpful, in addition to a true cost-of-living wage increase, which we haven’t had in over a decade, it would be for people to understand how important the work is that we do, and to appreciate it, and not take it for granted. That’s why it’s so crucial for us to tell our stories, because the power of the people is stronger than the people in power. When we speak up--especially in large numbers--people listen. In Tennessee, we are underfunding the BEP--even to the point that the state is facing lawsuits from large and small school systems--and it is the job of our elected officials to step up. However, we have to make sure that we initiate the conversation. If we’re not talking, how can we expect them to listen?
On a local level, it’s imperative that we attend every school board meeting on the second Monday of each month and every county commission meeting the following night on the second Tuesday of each month. Get involved, and have your presence felt! Encourage your school board and county commissioners to do the same. They should attend each other’s meetings. Knowledge is power, and with that power, each of you can profoundly impact our profession for generations to come. We must be our own advocates because no one will do it for us. For the sake of our students, we all need to row this boat in the same direction. We are all members of Team Coffee.