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Superintendents’ forum: The Future of Education is Up To Each of Us

This article was originally published in the Reading Eagle:

By: Dr. Andrew Netznik, Tulpehocken Area School District
Thursday, November 9, 2023

The other day, a friend asked me what I thought education would look like in 10 years and if I thought the state of education would improve. And I did not know how to answer him.  For the first time in 21 years of being in education, I truly did not know the best answer to that question.

I have spent the last 21 years as a teacher, principal, coach and superintendent championing public education in Pennsylvania. The fact that I could not answer that question really bothers me and has me reflecting on my own education experiences.

When I was just 4 years old, my mom took me to my kindergarten screening test. My score was so low that I barely got into kindergarten. I wanted nothing to do with school. I barely knew my alphabet and had no interest in learning it.

That all changed when I met my kindergarten teacher on my first day of school. She took a 5-year-old boy from disliking the idea of school to then knowing his alphabet and loving school. I went through that year looking forward to going to school and loving my kindergarten teacher.

When it was time to go to first grade, I was scared to move up because of the unknown and the stories I had heard. When the first day of first grade came, I was placed in a lower reading group. While I had loved kindergarten, I still did not like reading and was behind where I should be. But just like my kindergarten teacher, my first-grade teacher was not deterred by my reading gaps, and I soon found that the first-grade teacher was truly welcoming and changed my perception. In fact, she took me from being a struggling reader to being on grade level.

Today, I credit my success to the strong foundation that my kindergarten and first-grade teachers built for me.  Both of those teachers took a struggling kid who wanted nothing to do with school and inspired me into the path of education, and ultimately into my role as a superintendent of a school district. Now I know there were many years between first grade and a doctoral degree, but it was that fire sparked by my teachers in kindergarten and first grade that kept me moving forward all those years.

Over the last few years, I think many of us have lost focus on those sparks and fires that our teachers lit in each one of us. Instead, we have politicized and weaponized education. We have focused on all the noise that is happening around us instead of on those teachers who ignite the burning love for education in our kids so they can grow up and have unlimited possibilities. We all know there is a huge shortage in all trades and professions, but education is hurting considerably as well. Every year we are losing great teachers, and the pipeline to fill those spots is not as full as it used to be.

So, I guess the answer to the question that was posed to me is actually up to all of us. We need to promote the profession of teaching as a positive and not a negative. We need to talk about the flames that were ignited in each of us by our former teachers so that the positive is heard instead of the negative.

Every profession has positives and negatives about them. However, I can honestly say that in every school in which I have worked, I have seen many teachers continuing to ignite those flames in kids. Teachers have continued to be positive influences on the students, schools, and communities in which they have worked. Join me in restoring the perception of public education so that in 10 years, it not only has survived, but it has thrived.  Let us all work together so that in the future, the positive messages far outshine all the other noise surrounding education.

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