As a former teacher and teacher of teachers, Commissioner of Education, Candice McQueen’s heart is never far from the classroom. In this post, the commissioner recaps her recent stops in Dyer County and Union City Schools on the Classroom Chronicles tour.
By Candice McQueen, Tennessee Commissioner of Education
Throughout my time on the road, I am continually impressed by the thoughtfulness of our students and the passion of our educators, and that was exemplified in west Tennessee during visits to schools in Dyer and Obion counties.
Building strong communities
Community in both Dyer County Schools and Union City Schools feels like a family, many students and teachers told me. The encouragement and respect that students and teachers had for each other was apparent in every conversation, and it was equally obvious that it is paying off in both students’ and teachers’ growth.
During one conversation at North Ridge Middle School in Dyer County, students said they trust their teachers will make sure they know whatever they need to be successful, and they understood how what they are learning applies to their daily lives and will prepare them for the future. In response, their teachers said they know that their students’ success right now is inherently tied to larger community and lifelong growth. That is why, as one teacher put it, “their kids were more than just data” – they were the faces of the future. Students at both North Ridge Middle School and Dyer High School were able to share examples of how their teachers were helping them grasp what they are learning and how students supported each other to be successful.
And as the high school students noted, this tone was set by their teachers. Throughout my time in both Dyer and Obion counties, one of my biggest takeaways was the positive, collaborative relationships educators have built with each other. As one put it, they are empowered to teach and are treated like professionals. Teachers at North Ridge Middle School said they were really proud of what they do, but they are never content and always pushing to open up their world to their students. Educators regularly noted how they had opportunities to learn from each other and their students. And some teachers commented on how their students are continually impressing them with their growth in areas like writing. These teachers are optimistic about what the future will bring and are seeing their hard work pay off.
The supportive community trend continued outside the classroom, especially in Union City. I had a chance to hear from leaders of the Promethean Foundation, which has invested millions of dollars into providing access to high-quality preschool for local children who would not otherwise have that opportunity. The program focuses specifically on providing at-risk children with a foundation for educational excellence in both academic and character development. We know the critical importance of these strong early learning opportunities and the opportunity they provide to level the playing field for our kids, and I’m grateful to the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation for investing in our future.
Teaching a love of learning
One of my favorite parts of the Classroom Chronicles tour is hearing from students. During my visit to Union City Elementary School, I had a chance to talk with students about reading. Literacy development in the early grades is a priority at the department right now, and on Feb. 18 we launched an initiative called Read to be Ready that is focused specifically on building students’ reading abilities.
I was excited to see that these students are learning to engage in what they read. They highlighted the range of literature that interests our first graders – everything from stories about dinosaurs and Star Wars, to chapter books, to favorites like the Magic Tree House series and “No, David!” Most importantly, the children told me how much they like to read in their free time. Developing a love of learning and a culture around reading in our homes and schools is an important foundation. Teachers and parents can build on that and strengthen students’ abilities to engage with the text and learn more deeply.
Another highlight of the trip to Obion County was seeing the award-winning Union City High School band. Over a quarter of the school is involved in some band group, and it was clear that the passion of one of the band directors was rubbing off on his students. One eloquently said that while other educators may teach because they love music, their band director teaches them a love of music. The students were also able to make connections about how the skills they were developing in band practice, like listening to each other and doing your part, were ones they need for lifelong success. And they sounded great! These students reminded me that lifelong learning and teamwork is not only something we all need to continually practice, but we can have fun while doing it, too.
Thank you to the educators and students of Dyer County and Union City Schools for letting me visit, as well as Rep. Bill Sanderson for joining me on the visit to Union City.