While my forays into oil and canvas only happen on the weekends, as a kindergarten teacher for eight years, they’ve colored the way I view our education system here in Memphis. If we want to see the big picture of how to best support our students, then we can’t go at it alone: we need to bring together the diverse perspectives of educators, parents, policymakers and community members.
This year, Tennessee schools will begin to implement our state’s new education plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Unlike the previous federal education law, No Child Left Behind, ESSA gives Tennessee more autonomy to design policies to meet the needs of our state’s students.
This is a real opportunity for our state to build on the progress we’ve made and enact change, particularly in traditionally-underserved communities.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had many children walk into my classroom dealing with hunger or trauma from their personal lives, hardships that most can’t even fathom. Before we can focus on academics, as teachers, we need to meet our students’ basic needs to promote a sense of safety and belonging. Without spending time in a classroom, you can’t know what challenges students face or what supports they need to overcome these hurdles.
Improving schools is more than just academic support. We must consider factors like how we address student’s social and emotional needs or ways to recruit and retain teachers of color so students can see themselves in their educators.
When we think about making decisions that will raise student achievement, we need to consider a multitude of factors, often unique to specific communities and populations. The only way we can meaningfully impact change is if communities come together with district and state policymakers.
ESSA empowers Tennessee with the responsibility to decide how to close achievement gaps, improve schools and make sure that all our children succeed. These decisions must be made collaboratively. I encourage policymakers to visit more classrooms. Meet with teachers, students and parents to hear their perspectives.
Teachers, invite the community into your classroom. Communities, actively take time inside of a classroom. You will have more empathy for the work that teachers do, and you will be able to see the true needs of our students.
Let’s come together to paint a brighter future for all of Tennessee’s students.
Candace Hines is an Elementary Educator and a Regional Presenter, training teachers across various districts in Tennessee. She has previously worked as a Learning Coach and facilitator for Teach Plus Memphis, leading their Teacher-Led Professional Learning Network. Candace graduated as a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society from The University of Memphis, with a Bachelor’s of Science in Education. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.