Dick Yarbrough: An open letter to Georgia’s public school teachers

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Good grief, here we are slap-dab in the middle of the dog days of summer and you are already back in the classroom. I remember as a child that my family didn’t even take vacation until August because school didn’t start until after Labor Day.
When we started really didn’t seem to matter because before we wound things up around Memorial Day, I had gotten a head full of English, math, history, biology and geography and a jolly good education — and all in a public school.
I don’t think public education has gotten worse since those days. It is society that has changed.
The problem is that society has gone to hell in a wheelbarrow and nobody seems to know how to make it right again. So, the easy solution is to blame you for something over which you have no control. Critics of public education think you can close the schoolhouse door on all of society’s problems and effectively teach multiplication tables to a hungry child who doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from.
You are dealing with entitled kids. You are dealing with children that can’t speak English. Gang members as young as 12. You are dealing with abject poverty, abuse, drugs and transiency. And as much as I hate to say it, the possibility of violence.
So, what do our intrepid public servants do? Rather than fix the problems that surround you and make your job so difficult, they propose to cut-and-run from public schools on the state’s dime and send kids to private schools that have a different set of rules and that can always send them back to public schools. It is a no-win situation for you.
I cannot think of a more egregious insult to you than the admission by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle that he engineered a bill to raise to $100 million the amount of money available for private school scholarships, while acknowledging it was “bad in a thousand ways” in order that his opponent in the Republican primary, former state Sen. Hunter Hill — a private school advocate — would not be the beneficiary of a dump of money from the Walmart Foundation which cares little for you or what you do.
Of course, the Kool-Aid drinking ideologues are busy defending this bad piece of legislation done badly. They can’t wait until public schools are the “schools of last resort,” meaning you will be left with only the dregs and they can applaud their self-fulfilling prophecy.
This bunch has just about sucked all the joy out of the profession with their criticisms (as if they care) and have tried to make it as unattractive as possible for those thinking of becoming teachers. The Georgia Professional Standard Commission says half of Georgia’s schoolteachers leave the profession within the first five years because of the way they are treated. Perhaps some need to go. Most do not.
Sometimes, the enemy is within. Education bureaucrats will change your jobs and your responsibilities without giving you an opportunity for input. You are told to Teach to the Test instead of being trusted to teach what you know. And how you are evaluated can be as different as the sun from the moon.
I had great hopes that Gov. Deal’s Education Reform Commission of which I was a member would address some of the issues that you face with the same effectiveness as his criminal justice reform efforts. Alas, it was not to be. Nothing came from our yearlong labor for reasons that have never been adequately explained. Very disappointing.
While I sometimes feel like a voice in the wilderness, immodesty requires me to say I have a pretty good-sized wilderness in which to work. My opinions run from one end of the state to the other and reach a lot of eyeballs each week. I will continue to use my bully pulpit to support you and to remind your critics in the Legislature and their deep-pocketed, out-of-state special interest friends that they wouldn’t last a week in your classroom, given what you have to deal with. Call it a public service.
Despite all the aforementioned obstacles, frustrations and second-guessing, you soldier on, changing young lives for the better every day and in doing so, helping to make this a better world for us all. Yours is a noble calling and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Welcome back, schoolteachers, and thank you. I am glad you are there.


You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dickyarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb