It was my great honor to be invited to speak to the annual meeting luncheon of the Alabama Retired Educators Association on March 29 in Birmingham.  As I stood looking at the 700 retired teachers, administrators and support personnel before me, I was once again in awe of the hundreds upon hundreds of years of experience of working in public schools seated in the audience.

Each one of whom could recount special stories of students they once had and situations they faced.  And there is no doubt in my mind that years after many of them left the classroom, thousands of one-time school kids could still recall how that person made a difference in their life.  Maybe I’m just too much a romantic, but I honestly and truly believe that few who work in schools think they have a “job”.  Instead, they have a “calling” just a surely as someone feels lead to become a missionary or minister.

Their motivation was never about worldly riches.  It was about service to mankind.  It was about doing for the least of these.

(And those who say we should run schools like businesses just don’t get it.  They do not understand that the DNA of an educator is not the DNA of a business person.  Which is not to imply that either is “right” or “wrong,” they are just motivated by different things.)

As I began my comments, I told of people who motivate me.  Jackie Ergle, principal at Phil Campbell elementary in Franklin County who lost a teacher and two students when tornadoes ravaged west Alabama in the spring of 2011, Teacher Ann Monroe of Bryant Junior High in Jackson County who recently drove 400 miles one day to testify for three minutes before a senate committee, principal Amy Hiller of Meek elementary in Winston County who once told me that if I gave her a blank check, she would run her school’s heat and air-conditioning when it needed to be, rather than scrimping on their utility bill.

And I talked about my fourth-grade friend, Teawrie Hudson, who I met when she was in pre-school at George Hall elementary in inner-city Mobile five years ago.  About how she loves to read and how I’ve helped to make sure she has books at home.

I detailed some of the problems our public schools now face daily and concluded with this:

“These are difficult times for our public schools.  The very schools that you spent a lifetime working in.  You did an amazing job.  Did you do a perfect job?  Of course not.  There is always room for improvement.

But you were a professional, whether you were in a classroom, school bus or lunch room.  And that is the real dilemma we have today.  Who will control education?  Will it be professional educators?  Or will it be professional politicians backed by out of state money who listen only to lobbyists?

Instead of thinking about Jackie Ergle, Ann Monroe, Amy Hiller and Teawrie Hudson, we’re offering our children to the highest bidder, the one who has the most money in their PAC.

No doubt when most of you closed the classroom door for the final time you thought your work was done.

But let me suggest that our schools need you now more than ever.  You are the elder statesmen.  You are the ones who molded our present leaders.  You taught them, you coached them, you hauled them to school.

You will always be “my teacher” or “my coach.”  You will always hold a special place in society.  And I encourage you to use your unique position to speak out today for our public schools–the same ones you worked in.

We are using our children as the rope in a political tug of war right now.  I ask you to join with others and say, “enough is enough.”

Join me in standing up for Jackie Ergle, Ann Monroe, Amy Hiller and especially for my 4th grade friend, Teawrie Hudson.”