A new school year brings the same old problems

Published 12:40 pm Friday, August 19, 2011

Dear Public School Teachers in Georgia:

Well, here we go again. New school year. New opportunities. New faces. And the same old problems. As the song says, “Sometimes, it feels like you and me against the world.”

I have added two new teachers to the family this year. Grandson Nicholas Wansley is teaching high school science (like his father and his uncle) at South Forsyth High School, and his wife, Mandy, is teaching at Riverwatch Middle School, also in Forsyth County.

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Both of these young people are brighter than a new penny and could have had their choice of other careers, but both have chosen public education. I haven’t talked to them about why, but I suspect Nicholas’s dad has been a huge influence. They could not have found a better role model.

Dr. Ted Wansley is in his 25th year of teaching, currently at Whitewater High School in Fayette County. He has a Ph. D., is nationally-certified (although George E. Perdue and his cohorts in the legislature took away the money he had rightfully earned for his efforts), a former coach and was named “Teacher of the Year” in the state of Georgia a few years back. The kids have some big shoes to fill.

As I have said many times before, teaching is an honorable profession. Having four school teachers in my family makes me burst with pride. It makes me more determined than ever that you and what you do are respected.

I told a friend in the legislature (and, yes, I still have a few friends in the legislature) that if he thought I was a pain-in-the-rear (not my exact words, but you get the idea) with two public school teachers in the family, just wait — now, there are four. His response, as I recall: “Oh, my God!” He has reason to be concerned. So does anybody in government that doesn’t spend time making your job better instead of worse.

I have little patience with the second-guessing by carping critics who couldn’t carry your book bag. For years, I have challenged one of your biggest detractors, a radio yakker in Atlanta, to a debate on public schools. He has avoided me like a bad rash. Hopefully, some of his Kool-Aid drinking zealots will let him know I am still waiting.

One reader made a rationale for tax breaks for private-school scholarships, a scheme I dislike and one that I don’t think our state can afford in these difficult economic times. However, I told him I would support private-school scholarships, private-school vouchers, virtual schools, charter schools and, if necessary, even schools of fish, if somebody in the legislature, the governor’s office or the Department of Education will tell me how all of this fits together into a grand plan for educating our young people to compete and prosper in the global marketplace. I told him the people of Georgia would like to know, too. He said he would get right back to me with someone who would do just that. I am still waiting for him, too.

I don’t think there is such a plan. My perception is that a lot of influential legislators who could greatly improve your situation send their kids to private schools and don’t give a rip about public education. They talk the talk but that’s about all.

It fries my hide to see government at all levels lament the “failure” of public education. They bind you in red tape, tell you what to teach and when and how, cut your budget (but not your expenses) and assume you can stop society’s ills at the school house door. They then proceed to drop another cockamamie initiative — dreamed up by some navel-gazing “expert” — in your lap that won’t work any better than the last one. I wonder if it ever has occurred to our geniuses in government that maybe they are the flunks, not you.

Good luck in the upcoming school year, teachers. Please remember there are a lot of people who appreciate you, and that despite all the roadblocks, you will change a lot of young lives for the better and forever — something your detractors can’t do.

As for the sniping and criticism, leave that part to me. I love a fight better than butter beans, and I assure you I will fight for you and for public education. After all, I’ve got some skin in this game.

Email Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net or write to him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.