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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins


January 5, 2018 

Education holds the key to our collective future. Great teachers are the key ingredient to a quality education and a quality life.

Educators in Michigan today are feeling unappreciated and in may cases under siege. As one said to me, “I feel like the gum you find stuck on the bottom of your shoe.” This needs to change.

Training our adults to be competitive on the world stage and educating more of our children to be able to collaborate and compete globally is the key to Michigan’s and the country’s future prosperity. The city, state and 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.

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 vary people we need to build up — our teachers.

Teachers are key to our future prosperity.

The voice of the classroom teacher must be heard, especially around issues of classroom discipline, instructional design and delivery. Successful businesses tap the talent of their workforce and our schools and educational policy should be no different.

The True Statute of Liberty

Without the slightest embarrassment, I believe our quality public schools are the true Statue of Liberty of this great nation. Name another institution that truly takes the tired, hungry, poor, children who speak English as a second language or a child with a disability and gives them hope and opportunity. And our great teachers are the torch lighting the way for us all.

During my tenure as state superintendent, (2001-05) our team produced a book about Michigan great teachers. “They Help us Paint Rainbows” pairs students’ words about what makes our teachers great with student artwork, ranging from stick figures to stunningly sophisticated drawings produce by students across the state.

With the generous support from Cindy Pasky and Paul Huxley, owners of Strategic Staffing Solutions in Detroit, we printed tens of thousands of copies and the inspirations books were printed and distributed free to help uplift our great teachers.

Rhetoric from the state and our nation’s capital have never educated a single child. It is our teachers who know their subject matter, who have a passion for teaching and learning, and who are provided the support and tools from administration, that we must invest our resources and energy moving forward.

Teachers Measure Up!

As Michigan’s state superintendent of schools, 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.” Our great teachers measure up each and every day.

We need to engage teachers in the process of reform to attract and retain the very best in the classroom. The State Board of Education, at my urging in an overt effort to engage teachers, invited the annually selected Michigan Teacher of the Year to have a seat, but more importantly; a voice at the state board table. The teachers’ voice was always the last heard prior to policy being enacted.

We need to pause and give thanks to the great teachers in our state and actively engage them in helping to forge necessary change that will lead to progress for our kids.

Do our schools and teachers need to constantly 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.

Research and common sense reinforce that quality teachers matter. In the education enterprise we must always remember that teachers have the lead role (along with parents and students). The teacher is Diana Ross and the rest within the school building, while important and vital to success, are singing “doo-opp.”

We need to actively seek ways to engage teachers and make them a key member of all education reform efforts.

If you can read this, thank a teacher! But if you are a policy-maker (governor, legislator, school board member, superintendent, principal), consider re-evaluating how you can harness the talents of the master-link in the learning process — our great teachers.

So Lansing, as the New Year begins, rather than hammering our teachers down, let’s snap that symbolic hammer in half and turn it instead into a ladder that helps lift up our schools, teachers, and most importantly, our children.

The future of our state and nation is inextricably linked to the quality of our teachers. Let’s start acting like it!

This article is dedicated to a great and good man and always an educator, Marquette, Michigan Mayor Tom Baldini who passed away late last year from complication of a stroke. He helped many a student to “paint rainbows.”

Mayor Baldini’s biography from the City of Marquette’s website:

Mayor Tom Baldini Marquette, Michigan a truly great educator RIP

Tom Watkins served as Michigan’s state superintendent of public instruction from 2001-5, special assistant to the president of Wayne State University and is a business, health and and educational consultant in the US and China. He can be emailed at:, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


January 4, 2018 · Filed under Tom Watkins



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