Dear School Board Members:
Every year before school begins, I can’t sleep. Not a wink. This is a very odd thing for me considering how much I enjoy a good nap. I think it must be the excitement. There is a newness that each school year begins. New students, new teachers, new opportunities. This little quirk of mine drives my husband insane. He can’t fathom why I feel this way. I have literally experienced the first day of school thirty-four times in my life, and every year is the same. I have been teaching for seventeen years, and still, I am thrilled at the possibilities. My mind races with questions: Who will be in my classes? Who will I influence? What difference can I make in their lives? Will they allow me to walk around with spinach in my teeth after lunch? Just so you know, there are times when teenagers will allow teachers to make total fools of themselves just for giggles.
I have true joy when it comes to my job. Do I get tired? Yes. Do I feel underappreciated? Sometimes. Do I regret my decision to teach? NEVER! I feel like teaching is a calling that God has placed on me. I promise, there may be days when I feel like quitting, but the faces of students flash before my eyes, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am where I am supposed to be doing what I am supposed to do.
Then the end of the year creeps up and passes more swiftly than I noticed at the time. While I was praying for assemblies and snow days so I could catch up, an entire 180 days came and went in the blink of an eye. And then in May, for the seventeenth time, I will take my place among the faculty and staff of Cumberland Gap High School at graduation. This occasion is always bittersweet for me. A part of me wants to hold my darlings back for one more year, just so I can better prepare them for what the world is going to dish out to them. I want to tell them one more time that their dreams are worthy, and the future holds nothing but promise for them. The less selfish part of me is anticipating greatness. On that stage, our legacy is represented. They will be our leaders, our doctors, our lawyers, our teachers, our construction workers, our service men and women. They will become our heroes because we were firsthand witnesses to their struggles and triumphs. And Good Lord willing, some of them will stay here in Claiborne County and fill our community with children and families who continue to make this place we love a very special place to live.
You may be wondering why I am writing all of this. The answer is simple: I feel passionately about education. I feel passionately about my students. I’m going to make a huge assumption here and guess that each of you feels the same way. It may be because you are former or current teachers, or it may be because your children or grandchildren are school age. Whatever the reason may be for feeling passionately about education, I know that you have to do so. Otherwise, why would you spend your time and money to invest in a political position that comes with so much baggage and so little financial reward?
I am excited about the appointment of a new director of schools. Not because I feel negatively about the job completed by the current administration, but it is because I feel excited about the possibilities of a new one. It is the same with the school year. It is difficult to say goodbye to all of those who move on, but the potential of those coming up are endless at this juncture. I’m not writing to endorse a specific candidate; however, I am writing to endorse the kind of character and integrity that I feel we need to distinguish among the candidates at this pivotal point in the education system of Claiborne County Schools. These are prerequisites that I feel, as a parent and a teacher, are necessary in our next Director of Schools.
First, we need someone who will put the needs of children of this county first. As many of you know, our state and country is currently experiencing a shift in the educational climate. We need someone who is willing to make changes and sacrifices that will benefit all of the children in this county. There is a greater movement toward the importance of a more rigorous education. ACT and Advanced Placement classes are coming to the forefront in this movement. There must be more challenging classes offered on a wider scale and accessibility than dual enrollment can provide.
Second, we need someone who will leave politics to the politicians. Our Board of Education and our schools are not the places to make and fulfill political promises. Those types of deals only weaken the integrity of our leaders and make greater problems down the road. Compromises made at the beginning of career always lead to conflicts with others later. This isn’t simply my opinion; it is a time proven fact. We always have to pay the piper.
Third, we need someone who will stand behind the dedicated faculty, administration, and staff when trouble comes our way. And it will, no matter how good and hardworking we are. There will be those who disagree with the way things must be done, and when possible, reconciliation should be made, but it should not be at the expense of those who have devoted time, effort, and sometimes their own money to the education of our students.
Fourth, we need to avoid anyone with a political agenda. Again, our Board of Education and our schools are not the places to seek vengeance for past wrongs nor is it the place to carry out those infantile displays of complete lack of integrity. If vengeance is a motivating factor for any of the candidates, I would hope they would remove themselves from the running because I, for one, have no patience with those who purposely seek to hurt others for their own gain. The true mark of anyone’s character is how he or she treats those who can neither help nor harm. I wish those sage words were my own, but I must admit that I borrowed them from Von Goethe.
And last of all, we need someone who loves our students. I do not just someone who does the right thing for themselves or “their four and no more”, but I mean someone who does the right thing out of a genuine love of all of our students and our community. And I want to clarify that I do not mean words spoken. I mean action taken that offers prove of the new director’s true motives. That kind of commitment can’t be bought or learned. It must be from the soul.
I am sure that there are several candidates who fit these prerequisites. I am also sure that the person you choose will be the person that your conscience has dictated to you. You have an awesome responsibility, and I do not envy the weight that you all must have on your shoulders. I know many of us are praying that God grant you all wisdom and peace in the decision to come. My last piece of unsolicited advice is this. I tell my students all the time that, “There are plenty of people that I like, few that I love, and even less that I trust.” Please don’t be dazzled by promises and flashy gimmicks; choose the right. That is true wisdom: not cynicism. The sovereignty of God and the will of the people of Claiborne County have placed each of you in a position to make a difference in our county. I personally look forward to working with a completely new administration who displays the qualities that are important to our schools.
Thank you for reading.
Shannon Graves, Speedwell, Tennessee
English Teacher, Cumberland Gap High School