As I’ve reflected on Teacher’s Appreciation Week and my personal experience teaching 3rd and 4th graders, I strongly believe that teachers deserve our gratitude, but more importantly, teachers deserve results. This last legislative session, I’m proud to say that teachers will see some tangible results. That’s because we were able to pass a $8.3 billion Education Trust Fund budget, the largest in state history. Not only were we able to give educators a long overdue pay raise, but we also provided funds for auxiliary teachers, classroom supplies, and incentives to bolster teacher recruitment and retention. In addition, we increased funding for pre-K programsbecause we know that investing early in a child’s education pays big dividends for them later in life.
I highlight these successes because often they become diminished or overshadowed by political distractions, like banning subjects that aren’t even taught in Alabama schools or manufacturing contrived controversies over bathroom use. However, focusing on political distractions does absolutely nothing to address the real issues facing public education in our state. It doesn’t close the achievement gap, it doesn’t recruit bright, young minds into the profession, it doesn’t address the mass exodus of underappreciated and under-supported teachers choosing to leave the profession, and it certainly doesn’t improve the quality of meaningful content taught in our classrooms.
The truth is that teachers deserve more than kind words and platitudes during Teacher Appreciation Week, they merit our unwavering commitment and steady, long-term support. In Alabama, our schools have suffered for decades due to chronic underfunding, unfunded mandates, and a subsequent lack of adequate resources. Yet, my hope is that because of this year’s historic education budget, it will be remembered as the year that we turned things around for the better. I’m proud to say that my colleagues in the Legislature are demonstrating their appreciation for teachers by investing in the professional support and classroom resources they need and deserve.
In appreciating our teachers, I also want to commend them for their flexibility, courage, and resilience during the last several years as we’ve dealt with the unforeseen consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without advance notice, teachers improvised to change lesson plans to accommodate virtual learning and education from home. They were also caught in the middle when it came to implementing health guidelines, sometimes with conflicting mandates or little direction. Yet, they remained focused on the very thing that made them become teachers in the first place – they focused on students. They focused on teaching in spite of the obstacles, the inconvenience, and the uncertainty of what could come next. Their perseverance and adaptability were simply heroic and deserving of our genuine praise and highest recognition.
Recently, I had the tremendous honor of speaking at the Athens State University Bicentennial Commencement for the College of Education. I was profoundly inspired to see so many enthusiastic young men and women who have chosen to enter the noble and honorable profession of teaching. Together, we must support their efforts and give them the resources they need to ensure that Alabama’s children have the brightest future possible. They deserve more than our gratitude, they need to know that we are genuinely listening, that we care about their concerns, and that we honor their service. When we were young students, we studied for our tests because we understood the importance of results. It’s time for us to deliver results and do everything we can to bolster and improve public education in our state.
To me, teaching is the highest of callings because excellent teachers unlock the limitless potential within all of us. They fuel our quest for discovery, innovation, and invention. Albert Einstein once remarked, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Especially during this Teacher Appreciation Week, given the challenges they have faced over the last two years, teachers deserve our heartfelt praise and highest recognition. In difficult and dangerous times, they rose to the challenge, exceeded expectations, and taught us the meaning of resilience. They have shown us what it really means to be American heroes and they have earned our most sincere and deepest gratitude. To all the teachers who have profoundly affected and influenced my life, and the lives of my fellow Alabamians, you have my profound appreciation, support, and respect.