BradGentryAs educators it often seems that we have two options. Either we embrace the change handed down from Nashville without question, or we wait until a new governor takes over and implements different changes. In fact, when I began my teaching career, “Just wait, it’ll change” was the advice given to me by a veteran teacher. That message left me with the desire to find ways to impact change rather than simply being a passive recipient of it.

As I began searching for ways to impact change, the application for the Tennessee Educator Fellowship with SCORE came across my Twitter feed.  I knew that SCORE was an advocate for higher standards and was a proponent of many of the recent changes in education, but I was mostly unfamiliar with the organization’s work. The fellowship prospect intrigued me, however. As I began to read about the fellowship, it quickly became apparent that it would offer me the opportunity to impact change rather than just accept it. I had finally found what I was looking for!

From the moment I was accepted into the fellowship, I knew I had made a good choice. Each convening and webinar brought new information and skills to light that I would not have learned elsewhere. During the convenings I learned many facts that led Tennessee to adopt the recent education changes. I learned how the “F’s” Tennessee earned in the US Chamber of Commerce’s 2007 Leaders and Laggards report served as a wake-up call for the state and served as a catalyst for change. I learned that students in Tennessee were graduating without being ready for college or a career, which really hit home with me as a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher. I also learned behind-the-scenes insight into the struggle to keep standards high for students, and how that commitment has been upheld by two governors.

Those lessons were well worth my time; however, the best lesson I learned is that my voice matters. Not only does my voice matter, but it can bring about change if I am willing to advocate for it. The fellowship taught me how to use my voice, how to create a message, how to share my message, and how to advocate for students. It has also given me multiple opportunities to use my voice to promote career readiness in Tennessee and to advocate for the importance of CTE courses in high school, and how those courses can help students be better prepared for college and a career. The fellowship helped me realize that I no longer had to be a passive recipient of change handed down from above, I could use my voice to make changes and could advocate on behalf of my students from the classroom as a teacher who is doing the work and seeing the need.

The Tennessee Educator Fellowship has given me many lessons that have helped shape my understanding of education in Tennessee. With that, I have added many tools to my toolbox that I now know how, when, and where to use. I now know that my teacher voice is important, and that it can bring about tremendous change, and I am better equipped to advocate for my students than I was before participating in the fellowship.

SCORE has announced the fellowship is expanding with the 2016-17 class, and applications are being accepted through April 8.

Embracing change or waiting for new changes never seemed like good options to me. I knew there had to be a better way, a way that my voice could be heard. Thanks to the Tennessee Educator Fellowship, I have found that third option. The fellowship taught me many skills and lessons which will follow me throughout my career, and I know I am a better educator for having participated in the fellowship.