Happy New (School) Year

Tennessee’s teachers are beginning a new school year, and it’s evident everywhere you look that thousands of teachers and students across the state are starting a new learning journey. There is something about the start of a school year that is full of promise and new beginnings, and it’s a perfect time to stop and reflect on the profound influence you will have over the people who learn in your classroom this school year.

As I travel across the state and talk with teachers and students, I hear countless stories of teachers who change students’ lives. Teachers talk about students who rise to the challenge of high expectations, persevere through challenge, and excel in ways they never knew they could. At the state level, teachers are helping students grow at unprecedented levels, and that growth has attracted national attention. There is no doubt that your work is helping more Tennessee students than ever gain the knowledge and skills they need to be successful, no matter their chosen path in life, and that is important in many ways.

First, your work is important for equity. As a part of our state’s strategic plan, we say “all means all” when we talk about equity, and we mean that all students deserve the very best education. However, all won’t mean all until all means each. If we are going to move forward as a state and provide an excellent education for all students, we have to focus on each student. Only teachers touch students’ lives at that level, seeing each student’s unique strengths and challenges, honoring their potential, and supporting each student to help them grow and achieve so that they are successful in school and in a career.

Your work is also important for our communities, state, and nation. Beyond the knowledge and skills students need for success in college and career, you are providing an education that will help them be successful in life. You’re preparing them for a lifetime of good citizenship, in which they become thinkers and doers who strengthen their communities. You’re providing them with a solid foundation of knowledge, the skills to listen and read critically, and an appreciation for diversity of thought and perspectives, all of which are crucial for a healthy democracy. Tomorrow’s leaders are in your classroom today, and you are shaping our future through them.

Preparing our students for work and for the world is powerful work that only you can do. So, as you begin a new school year, I want you to know how valued you are. As teachers, you’re touching lives every day, as only a teacher can, and I am incredibly grateful for the time, effort, and commitment you invest every day . . . beginning with the very first one.

May you have the very best of school years,