YARBROUGH COLUMN: Open letter to Georgia’s school teachers

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Dear Teachers,

Let me begin my annual message to you as I am going to end it: Thank you.

Thank you for your willingness to go back into the classroom once again this year in spite of every roadblock imaginable. A lot of your colleagues have thrown in the towel and decided that the teaching isn’t worth the hassle. It is and you know it because you have a chance to make a positive difference in young lives. Not many of us can say that or do that. You can. And you do.

You do it in spite of bureaucratic red tape and often conflicting directives from the federal government and the state government and the local school board. Each with a silo view of how and what you should be teaching but none responsible for the results — just you.

Over the past couple of years, you have experience challenges for which none of us were prepared, teaching remotely through a pandemic as if you needed any more trials. Trying to ensure you had your student’s attention, hoping the technology would work and knowing that Georgia Milestones tests would be evaluated no matter the circumstances. But you hung in there.

Now that you are back in the classroom face-to-face, you have to contend with a shortage of staff — cafeteria workers, maintenance personnel, bus drivers and the like — but you can’t postpone classes because of those shortages. Learning goes on.

It was not only good but fitting that you got a nice $5,000 raise, thanks to Gov. Brian Kemp and the General Assembly. It helps that Georgia, unlike many states in the Northeast and Midwest, is flush with cash. It looks like we’ll end the budget year with a $5 billion surplus, so why not reward you?

But don’t forget the Great Recession from 2009 to 2012 which saw a major decline in state tax revenue. Lawmakers quickly cut school funding and teachers and school staff furloughs were common. The state giveth but when economic times get tough, they will taketh away in a heartbeat.

Pardon my cynicism but it is an election year and our intrepid public servants will be sure to remind you of the pay raises they so graciously granted you and how much they respect your good works because their mother/sister/cousin/uncle/whoever was a schoolteacher.

But beware of Greeks, or in this case, legislators bearing false gifts. As soon as they are reelected, they will go back to Atlanta ready to cut your legs out from under you with their voucher schemes so that well-to-do Georgians can send their kids to private schools while getting a tax break.

The same legislators who loved you when they wanted your vote will lament the sorry state of public education, which includes you and your efforts. Mark my words, it will happen. Be prepared.

The voucher crowd wants to conveniently forget that there is no way to keep society’s issues – hunger, abuse, drugs, gangs, transiency  – from coming in your classroom and that instead of running away from the challenges you face, they should be trying to fix them.

Although I will occasionally split an infinitive like an atom or forget to move a decimal point where it belongs, I got a pretty good public school education which translated into a rewarding career, thanks to teachers who taught me the basics and made sure I learned them.

Now, there is pressure to make you sociologists. There are those who want you to take students on a guilt trip regarding our past behavior and ignore the gains we have made and are making. In Georgia, we have a Black woman who has a serious chance of being our next governor as well as Black and Jewish U.S. Senators just elected.

That is progress and is the kind of thing we should be focusing on and not dredging up a past that is gone with the wind.

And violence.

What has happened to our society that we now fear becoming another Sandy Hook or Marjorie Stoneman Douglas or Uvalde? While special interests groups argue murderers vs. gun control, you have to live with the prospects of violence each and every day. I pray it never happens but please be vigilant.

Obviously, I haven’t told you anything you don’t already know.

So I will end our conversation by wishing you the very best as you begin another school year. Thank you for what you do. I am glad you are there.