At A Time Of A National Tragedy It Right To Honor Teachers As Our Salvation

Dec 16, 2012 by

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins – We need to find ways to lift up our schools, teachers and most importantly–our children.

Tragically,  as we painfully witnessed last week in Newtown, Connecticut our teachers paid the ultimate sacrifice,  laying down their lives for our children.  Sadly, it often takes a tragedy to make us see .

Soon it will be a new year. I would like to think we will leave behind many of our problems behind. Sadly, many of them will follow us into 2013.

The “Fiscal Cliff” will remain, unemployment is still too high, the lack of care for persons with serious mental illness is self-evident and the gun control debate will rage on.

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. Doing so is the key to our state’s  country’s future prosperity.

Far too many people in America are still out of work. Yet, there our thousands of jobs going unfilled due to the lack of education, skills and training of the existing workforce.

Economic and social pressures continue to mount as technology and the emergence of new economies in China, Brazil, India, Turkey, and now Africa, change our very way of life.

Globalization and technology will not slow down, they will excelerate moving forward.

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.

More than a decade ago, President Bill Clinton captured the essence of America in his Inaugural Address when he said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

The same can be said for our schools. Yet, you would not know it with the harsh rhetoric that is spewed on our schools and the people that educate our children.

One teacher recently told me she “felt like a piece of gum stuck on the bottom of a shoe.”

Teachers Are Key

Education holds the key to our collective futures. The city, state or nation that creates an effective system of learning will thrive. Our goal should be to make America the brain bank of the world where everyone wants to come for deposits and withdrawals. 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 teachers.

Our public schools are the true Statue of Liberty in this great country of ours — 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 (2001-05), 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 to a disruptive world where ideas and jobs can and do move around the globe effortlessly? 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 and learn from our great teachers and provide them with the resources, respect and support the deserve and have earned.

Tom Watkins, served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools and state mental health director.  He is a US/China business and educational consultant.  Email:

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