Believe There's Good; Be the Good

The following is a transcript of the speech that Mike Stein wrote to give to teachers during Coffee County Schools’ opening day convocation.

Despite all of the craziness going on in the world today, I maintain that a large majority of people are good people. Occasionally, I will see a good news story posted on Facebook captioned with someone saying “This restores my faith in humanity!” The truth is that good news stories happen every single day, only they largely go unnoticed by the general public. Let’s be honest here: Fear sells infinitely better than faith and, as a result, most of the news that we consume is negative in nature. That doesn’t mean that most of the people are bad--they’re just the ones getting most of the exposure.

As teachers, if we truly wish to be effective (and whose goal is to be ineffective?), then we must all maintain the general belief that people are good. We see it in our students even when they don’t see it in themselves. Our students need someone who will not give up on them, someone who believes that they are capable of accomplishing phenomenal things--both now and in the future. As teachers, we want to equip them with the tools they need to positively impact the world in which they live. That’s what teaching is really all about. As teachers, we are the ultimate optimists because we strongly believe in the power of mankind to do great things, and we believe in our power to help others get there.

As important as it is for teachers to believe that there’s good in the world, we must also be the good. One of the things that I love about being a teacher is that this comes naturally to us. Teachers thrive on being role models for the younger generations, but with that also comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. In addition to learning about our content, and learning about our students, we reinforce the notions of doing the right thing, of treating others as you want to be treated, and always putting forth your best effort.

To me, “being the good” also means advocating for ourselves and our students when the need arises. In short, it means being a teacher leader. When I look around this room, I see a group of advocates; I see a group of people who work to keep students at the center. I also see a group of connectors. You are the experts in your classrooms, and you are the face of the teaching profession to the rest of the community who truly doesn't understand what we do on a daily basis. You are not only impacting your students' lives, but their children, and their children's children.

In the middle of July, I attended a one-day Teacher Leader Summit in Cool Springs. A little over 100 teacher leaders from across the state attended this event, along with Gov. Haslam and Secretary of Education Candice McQueen. At the end of the day, she shared “Five Big Moves That Are Part of Teacher Leadership” and I want to pass them along to you. They are:

“1) Continue to share your teaching expertise and practice with others on a regular basis. A teacher leader has the authority and the expertise to make their practice visible. 2) Work together with your peers to create and align standards, resources, and materials, and then share them. 3) Advocate for the teaching profession and promote policies and practices that elevate the profession. 4) Use your teacher leadership voice to lead opportunities at the local and statewide levels. Teacher created professional learning is what teachers desire. When you share your expertise, it inspires someone else. 5) Remember to pay attention to your own growth and development as a teacher leader. Take care of your own ability to serve. Your own learning matters.”

My own involvement with the Coffee County Education Association provides me with another outlet to “be the change.” In addition to that, I joined the Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellowship so I can help amplify other teachers’ voices on education policy. My involvement in that teacher fellowship led me to start writing a weekly editorial for the Manchester Times, which I co-publish on my blog, unpackedu.com. That, in turn, has lead to me being allowed to present at the LEAD Conference in October about elevating teacher voice. It’s amazing how taking that first step has lead to so many other teacher leadership opportunities. The state is thirsty for teachers who are willing to express their voices to people who will listen.

Regardless of whether or not you join CCEA, Hope Street Group, SCORE, or any other group, every day you enter the classroom and open children’s minds to new ideas, new perspectives, and new ways of solving problems, you are being the change that they need. Every day you come to school and put a smile on a young person’s face, you reinforce their faith in humanity. Thank you, from the bottom of my soul, for your commitment to make #TeamCoffee the best school district in the state of Tennessee.