November 7 was maybe the best day of my professional life, and I started not to write about it. I was going to play it cool, I wasn’t going to “geek out”, and I certainly wasn’t going to expend my own “personal social media capital” to talk about it.
So much for that.
During the gubernatorial campaign and even after the election, Governor Bill Haslam would often talk about how important it was to him that Tennessee make great strides in education. He most frequently said it this way: “If at the end of four years or at the end of my time as Governor, Tennessee hasn’t significantly moved the needle in education results, I will consider my administration and my time as Governor a complete failure.”
I’ll confess, I used to sort of wince when he said it. I wasn’t doubtful of his commitment to that idea, but, frankly, I just wasn’t sure it would actually ever happen or that enough other people had bought in to making it a reality.
On November 7, I woke up, got dressed and drove to a school where the Governor was going to make what had been billed as, “a significant education announcement.” And I sobbed the entire way there.
The announcement was this: The Nation’s Report Card (NAEP) announced today that Tennessee is the fastest-improving state in the country for student growth. And not just that, but Tennessee made the biggest jump by any state in the history of administering the test.
Read it again.
In the country.
Biggest gains ever.
And while we still have a long way to go, it was incredibly exciting.
As a student who attended an inner city public high school, that day meant something different to me. And it meant something different to me because I’m on the Governor’s staff, something different to me because I care about social justice, about books, about reading, about the arts, and something different to me as a person of faith. And, most especially, it meant something different to me because I’m the daughter of a teacher.
Teachers and principals and boots on the ground are the reason this happened.
Of course, it was the result of years of hard work from a variety of different sectors and partners. But as I read news articles about Tennessee students in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today and every – single – newspaper – in the state – I’m reminded that when we put our minds to something, Tennesseans can get stuff done.
The commissioner of education for the state of New York released a statement after the announcement of the results that read (among other things), “What happened in Tennessee… can happen here.”
Read it again. “What happened in…. Tennessee…” You see, other states across the country are looking to Tennessee no longer as the state to point to when discussing the bottom 40s in educational rankings but as the example.
And we should applaud ridiculously, update our Facebook statuses, tweet, and celebrate – not because it is over, but because it’s happening.
For you see, this is what happens when an educator steps in to an otherwise hopeless environment – an environment where there are a thousand reasons that a student shouldn’t be able to succeed – and puts up her arms and says, “Enough! I refuse to accept that. You are good enough, smart enough, and certainly capable enough. Let’s work together to help you succeed. I know you can do it!”
Education gives people hope when there otherwise isn’t any. That happens through excellent educational professionals and teachers who pull into the parking lot at schools every day across the state knowing that if this all goes as planned, they can literally change the trajectory of someone’s life.
Trust me. It’s worth geeking out over.