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In 2013, let’s listen to our teachers

Jan 1, 2013 by

tom_watkinsTom Watkins – There is perhaps no bigger problem facing our state and nation than the retraining of our workforce and educating our children to be able to collaborate and compete on the world stage. Far too many people in Michigan and America are still out of work. Yet, there are thousands of jobs going unfilled due to the lack of education, skills and training of the existing workforce.

Knowledge, creativity, talent, skill and an entrepreneurial spirit are the commodities that will matter most as individuals, states and the nation re-calibrate to the new normal.

Yet, the very people we need most to help prepare our children for a future where ideas and jobs move around the globe effortlessly — our teachers — are under assault. One teacher recently told me she “felt like a piece of gum stuck on the bottom of a shoe.”

Education holds the key to our collective futures. The city, state or nation that creates an effective system of learning will thrive. This goal calls for the engagement of and support for our teachers.

Yet, rather than seeking ways to develop a shared vision and common agenda to make this happen, political and ideological battles sharpen and continue to beat down the very people we need to build up.

Our public schools serve the mission that the Statue of Liberty stands for perhaps better than other institution — taking the tired, hungry, poor, kids who speak English as a second language and children with disabilities to give them hope and opportunity. Our great teachers are the torches lighting the way for us all.

As Michigan’s State Superintendent of Schools from 2001 to 2005, I had a simple measuring stick against which all decisions made by the Department of Education and State Board of Education were judged: “Show me how this helps our teachers teach and our children learn.”

We need to engage teachers in the process of reform to attract and retain the very best in the classroom. Not enough of this is happening today.

Do our schools and teachers need to constantly evolve, embrace change and adapt? Of course.

Yet, without the ability to tap the energy, talents, skills and passions of these great educators that are touching our collective futures every day, we are missing a major ingredient necessary to soar in the 21st Century knowledge economy.

May 2013 be the year we listen to and learn from our great educators — and provide them with the resources, respect and support they deserve and have earned.

Tom Watkins, served as Michigan state superintendent of schools and state mental health director.

Guest commentary: In 2013, let’s listen to our teachers | Commentary | Detroit Free Press |

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