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Posted on Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 10 a.m.

New Year's resolution: Give teachers the resources, respect they deserve

By Tom Watkins

We need to find ways to lift up our schools, teachers and most importantly—our children.

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Tragically, as we painfully witnessed last week in Newtown, Connecticut, our teachers paid the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives for our children. Sadly, it often takes a tragedy to make us see.

Soon it will be a new year. I would like to think we will leave behind many of our problems behind. Sadly, many of them will follow us into 2013.

The "Fiscal Cliff" will remain, unemployment is still too high, the lack of care for persons with serious mental illness and gun control debate will rage on.

There is perhaps no bigger problem facing our state and nation than the retraining of our workforce and educating our children to be able to collaborate and compete on the world stage. Doing so is the key to our state and country’s future prosperity.

Far too many people in Michigan and America still are out of work. Yet, there are thousands of jobs going unfilled due to the lack of education, skills and training of the existing workforce.

Economic and social pressures continue to mount as technology and the emergence of new economies in China, Brazil, India, Turkey, and now Africa, change our very way of life.

Globalization and technology will not slow down, they will accelerate moving forward.

Knowledge, creativity, talent, skill and an entrepreneurial spirit are the commodities that will matter most as individuals, states and the nation re-calibrate to the new normal.

More than a decade ago, President Bill Clinton captured the essence of America in his Inaugural Address when he said, "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."

The same can be said for our schools. Yet, you would not know it with the harsh rhetoric that is spewed on our schools and the people that educate our children.

One teacher recently told me she “felt like a piece of gum stuck on the bottom of a shoe.”

Teachers Are Key

Education holds the key to our collective futures. The city, state or nation that creates an effective system of learning will thrive. Our goal should be to make Michigan and America the brain bank of the world where everyone wants to come for deposits and withdrawals. This goal calls for the engagement of and support for our teachers.

Yet, rather than seeking ways to develop a shared vision and common agenda to make this happen, political and ideological battles sharpen and continue to beat down the very people we need to build up — our teachers.

Our public schools are the true Statue of Liberty in this great country of ours — taking the tired, hungry, poor, kids who speak English as a second language and children with disabilities to give them hope and opportunity. Our great teachers are the torches lighting the way for us all.

As Michigan's State Superintendent of Schools (2001-05), I had a simple measuring stick against which all decisions made by the Department of Education and State Board of Education were judged: "Show me how this helps our teachers teach and our children learn."

We need to engage teachers in the process of reform to attract and retain the very best in the classroom. Not enough of this is happening today.

Do our schools and teachers constantly need to evolve, embrace change and adapt to a disruptive world where ideas and jobs can and do move around the globe effortlessly? Of course.

Yet, without the ability to tap the energy, talents, skills and passions of these great educators that are touching our collective futures every day, we are missing a major ingredient necessary to soar in the 21st century knowledge economy.

May 2013 be the year we listen and learn from our great teachers and provide them with the resources, respect and support the deserve and have earned.

Tom Watkins, served as Michigan state superintendent of schools from 2001-05. He is a US/China business and educational consultant. Email:


Roger Kuhlman

Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 9:49 p.m.

We have been shovelling tons of money at Teachers and the Teacher's Unions for decades now and Public education has gotten worse and worse. We need major changes in the ways the Public School system is run and staffed. We need merit pay, real teacher evaluations, and more charter schools where parents have more choice where they children go to school. Bad teachers should be fired. The Public education system should put the welfare of the children and the Public ahead of teachers and their labor unions.

chawn a whitsitt

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

Well said, now reality check: teachers that are experienced are being forced out in many districts; massive pay cuts in Michigan districts; fear for teacher's jobs a real threat. America's children are discounted when their bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and many ancillary faculty have had benefits taken, salaries reduced and basic equity dismantled. No joke. The truth. Now what?


Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 10:33 p.m.

Boy, there's a set up for a program launch that has it's own agenda!So the pitch will go to the teachers in January to be part of the solution, not these superintendent and board of ed types or parents. Mcllellen and all will be back, trying to sweeten the pot for the teachers with the new education agenda, all those teachers now that they would like to work for a for profit institution without those pesky union...yikes.


Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

When did teachers become the enemy in this country? I was lucky to grow up in Ann Arbor in the 70's and 80's...I valued my teachers at Eberwhite, Slauson, and Pioneer. It's a shame that some where along the line, they became the enemy. Is this a conservative value? Have the uneducated become poisoned by Limbaugh and A.M. radio?


Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

I'm soo sorry...I meant Tom, not Ron. Anyway - THANKS!


Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU< RON, THAN YOU. I am not a teacher, but my daughter is in her 3rd year of teaching in Mi. and is quite disillusioned by the current (...not for long!!!) republican power brokers treating her like a second class citizen. Thanks again!! God bless!

Dog Guy

Wed, Dec 19, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

Even I, a teacher, choke on this large chunk.