A teacher led by faith and fire for her students: Bettina Polite Tate of Savannah

Bettina Polite Tate

Bettina Polite Tate

Here is another installation in UGA professor Peter Smagorinsky’s ongoing Great Georgia Teacher series. Today, he writes about Bettina Polite Tate, a former marketing teacher at Johnson High School in Savannah who recently moved into a district-wide leadership role.

She now serves as Career, Technical, Agricultural, Education supervisor for the district and is no longer at Johnson High. She sounds like a remarkable teacher with amazing drive and energy, and I hope she will be able to reach more students in her new position in the Career, Technical, Agricultural, Education Department with the Savannah-Chatham  County Public Schools.

When Peter Smagorinsky wrote this piece, she was still at the high school.

By Peter Smagorinsky

Sol C. Johnson High, located on Savannah’s east side, is known as the Atom Smashers when it takes to the sporting fields. Perhaps this moniker follows from its original name, the Powell Laboratory School, when it was founded in 1959 under the administration of Savannah State College (now University). Presently a public school described as “urban” in character, Johnson High uses “Not to Equal but to Excel” as its motto.

Such an ambition can only be achieved through the efforts of great teachers like Bettina Polite Tate, a marketing teacher and International Baccalaureate Business and Management instructor, who was named Savannah-Chatham County Public School System’s 2011 Teacher of the Year.

Bettina is a Johnson High alumna and graduate of Savannah State University, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and master’s in public administration. She’s a ball of fire, dedicating herself wholeheartedly to the lives of young people enrolled at Johnson, especially in her provision of multiple pathways for entering the business world. She is not of the “Greed is good” persuasion that seems to govern much commerce, if Wall Street excess is any indication. Rather, she sees work in business environments as stimulating, healthy, and good for both individuals and communities.

What makes her a great teacher? Like most who achieve greatness in the classroom, no single facet of her career distinguishes her as exceptional. Rather, she brings a varied skill set to her teaching that enables her students to work at levels previously not expected of them. I’ll next describe what those assets are and how she puts them into play in her broad-based work as a public educator.

The first quality is possibly the most controversial, yet I suspect is the most fundamental to her sense of mission in education. Bettina is a devout Christian. Like many teachers, she views teaching as a calling that gives her life meaning not available in strictly fiduciary careers. She worked in the insurance industry before launching her teaching career in 2005.

A pivotal point for her came when she read Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” and began to talk with her family about what might provide her with a fulfilling means through which to combine her quest for a higher purpose with her hopes for a robust career. These conversations led to her decision to become a teacher. In spite of taking a sizable cut in pay, Bettina feels enriched by her decision: “I help people obtain what they need, I negotiate for successful futures, and I am wealthy with respect, love, and knowledge.”

I begin with Bettina’s faith with some trepidation, given the controversies surrounding the separation of church and state (including school) and my belief in pluralistic communities. I am not promoting Christianity itself here, or urging prayer in schools; my own belief system is not based on religious faith of any kind, so I’m not one to push that agenda. As a resident of the South and Southwest for most of my life (Virginia for my first 16 years, and Oklahoma and Georgia since 1990), and as a Bible Belt teacher educator for 22-plus years, I have come to know many teachers who found their vision of education in Biblical notions of good works. This profound commitment to the public good is surely a good thing, no matter what its origin, and I have seen a similar dedication following from teachers with adherence to Jewish and Muslim faiths.

If Bettina is any indication of how a faith-based belief in the potential of young people can inspire extraordinary teaching in a secular setting, then I’m all for it, even as I recognize that many great teachers excel without relying on a foundation of religion. Undoubtedly, the higher purpose that she has found as an educator provides the spirit behind her extraordinary dedication to helping young people find vigorous and rewarding ways of succeeding in mainstream society.

I have met many such teachers in Georgia whose faith communities inspire them to regard teaching as a profession that enables them to employ their heartfelt compassion for others in service of academic and professional opportunities for young people.

So, what does that work look like in practice? When Bettina began teaching at Johnson High in 2005-2006, the school’s business offerings were slim. She launched the marketing program with three sections of Marketing Principals, and at the outset, the enrollment per section was under 20 students — all in a Class AAAAA school of considerable size. Meanwhile, the school’s Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) chapter included only 14 students.

Her dedication to building the school’s business curriculum produced astronomical growth and success: By 2010, the program employed three full-time marketing teachers, enrolled 212 members in DECA, increased its DECA advisory board tenfold, and provided enough courses in marketing to develop Marketing Management and Marketing Promotions & Communications pathways.

As a program builder, Bettina has been incomparable in identifying a need, instituting a plan, enduring early setbacks, and investing her considerable passion and energy into its rapid growth into one of her school’s most dynamic academic units.

Business courses can be taught out of books, and I suspect that a bookish approach would not result in the dramatic levels of interest that Bettina quickly engendered among Johnson High students. In contrast, she has emphasized real-world engagement as part of a business education. Bettina’s efforts follow from her belief that an outstanding teacher “identifies students’ strengths, talents, and abilities and provides them with real-world opportunities to enhance and perfect their natural interest and attributes.”

Like many other great teachers, Bettina does not view the classroom as an enclave discreet from the rough-and-tumble of the world outside. Indeed, among her great achievements in the classroom is that she has built a sturdy bridge from her instruction to authentic business opportunities in the world without.

To help Johnson students relate school to authentic work, Bettina instituted the student-run Smasher Marketing Firm, through which students gain experience in a variety of roles in offering marketing assistance to local small businesses and non-profit groups in Savannah. She is also the faculty supervisor for the student-run Smasher Stop and Shop school store, which is embedded in the curriculum to enable students to learn effective marketing strategies involved in operating a real business, all for academic credit. To help institutionalize her business program and provide additional means of engagement, she supervises a variety of student activities, including the DECA student affiliate and the Gulfstream Student Leadership Program.

That just isn’t enough for her, however. To help her students link their school-based learning with real-world business practices and to provide a clearer pathway from high school to college, she developed a partnership with Savannah State University’s College of Business so that her students and the SSU students work together on projects of national interest, such as the FBI Employee Recruitment Marketing campaign.

Johnson High students can also use an internet platform to take college-level marketing courses through Savannah State for college credit. To expand the business curriculum, Bettina trained in the International Baccalaureate program so that she could include the IB Business Management and Marketing course, also available for college credit, among her students’ opportunities. Bettina further instituted the Market My Company & Product project, which requires students to write a business plan, develop a product, and market it successfully, with funds helping to finance the many initiatives that she has begun at Johnson High. Her work has taken Johnson High School from having a bare-bones business program to one that has earned the state’s and nation’s top rankings for its DECA chapter.

Bettina’s interest in making school an authentic learning experience has moved her to become active, along with her students, in community service. She is heavily involved in JHS’s programs for recycling, Teachers as Advisors, Christmas for the Elderly, and SCJ Mega Fest, Johnson’s year-end event in which such themes as “Celebrating Success” are realized in student organizations’ booths and activities designed both to reward achievement and recruit new students to the good clean fun available in worthwhile school involvement. After initially bootstrapping Mega Fest into existence, Bettina now presides over a gala event that draws 1,500 participants who benefit from the updraft that her programs enable for students who, just seven years ago, had no such opportunities available.

Bettina says that her “commitment to the community shows youth and fellow educators that we all have a far-reaching responsibility and can make our community better by being intimately involved in it.” She is heavily involved in community functions, including two honor sororities, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Iota Phi Lambda, both of which provide young African-American women with pipelines to achievement and prosperity. She has also founded a pair of service organizations, the Youth of Elite Community Organizations and Fully Armored Teen Camp at Con-Ed Family Resource Center. Other partnerships include the relationships she established between Johnson HS and Economic Empowerment, a program sponsored by 100 Black Men of Savannah, Inc.; a partnership with the WTOC Channel 11 Marketing & Media Career Explorer Post; and an affiliation with the Savannah Sand Gnats Baseball Team.

This community involvement includes more extended charitable efforts. In 2005-06, Bettina’s marketing students raised more than $15,000 to offset the medical bills for an injured Johnson HS student athlete. She has also coordinated the school’s Hurricane Katrina Relief effort, a school-wide clean-up and recycling program, and the annual school drive to collect canned food, toys, and blankets for indigent community members. In her spare time, I guess, she is also helping the school develop a student-run newspaper.

Oh yes, she’s pretty good in the classroom, too. As a teacher, she says, “I model what I expect. I discuss my interest, career, and academic goals with students and I share the behaviors that I enact to accomplish them (the goals). In turn, I encourage students to discuss their goals with me. Then, I work as a facilitator to help them take actions to be successful.” I have never been in her classrooms, so can’t personally attest to what she’s doing on a day-to-day basis. But in the aggregate, there appears to be consensus on the fact that she does it pretty well, given the following recognition just in the last few years:

•Johnson High Class of 2008 Best Teacher Ever Award

•Johnson High CTE Teacher of the Year 2009

•Johnson High Teacher of the Year 2010-2011

•WTOC Top Teacher May 2009

•GMEA Teacher of the Month April 2009

•SCCPSS district Teacher of the Year 2010-2011

•Finalist, Georgia Teacher of the Year 2010-2011

• Georgia Marketing Educators Association Marketing Teacher of the Year 2010-2011

• Iota Phi Lambda Sorority Outstanding Educator Award 2009, 2010

• Georgia Marketing Teacher of the Year 2010-2011

Great teachers are often involved in professional leadership, and Bettina’s appointment to Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Advisory Board and the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (Ethics Committee), along with her recognition as an Outstanding Georgia Citizen by the secretary of state, suggests that her star is rising at the state level.

And she’s not nearly done yet. She continues to increase her wealth of knowledge by completing her Specialist degree in Educational Leadership in May 2010 and pursuing her Doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from Mercer University.

Like the other great Georgia teachers I have profiled, Bettina is a multiple-tool star. She works well above and beyond her job description to make school relevant for her students. She is a dynamic program builder whose efforts have created untold opportunities for JHS students. She has built bridges from JHS to a variety of local businesses, services, and postsecondary outlets through which students may develop positive life trajectories. She’s one great teacher, and we are mighty lucky to have her on our side.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

41 comments Add your comment

Pride and Joy

November 27th, 2012
8:43 am

“Johnson High uses “Not to Equal but to Excel” as its motto.”
BRAVO!
Get Schooled, I would love to know how the KIDS are doing in that school and how the kids are doing in her classees.
Does the school graduate more than 67% ?
How many go to college?
What is their SAT and ACT average?

indigo

November 27th, 2012
8:49 am

Wow!!! Just what the students need! A true believer teacher who builds her life around blind faith. Here is someone who totally believes in something that has not one shred of hard evidence to back it up. And yet, students are supposed to think she can teach an academic subject in a clear and rational manner.

If you life of faith is based on totally illogical and convoluted thinking, this will affect every other thing you believe in.

bootney farnsworth

November 27th, 2012
9:00 am

bitter much?

blind faith worked for the Founders and every great achiever in history

Peter Smagorinsky

November 27th, 2012
9:07 am

I hope that this discussion does not get sidetracked by a discussion of the issue of faith. My point, which I’d hoped to make, is that even though I personally am not religious, I find people who are moved by faith to such good works to be admirable. Let’s focus on the good works and allow each of us to be motivated to undertake them in our own way.

indigo

November 27th, 2012
9:11 am

bootney

Blind faith caused George W. Bush to invade Iraq based on Biblical prophecy concerning Gog and Magog destroying Israel. The resulting loss in blood and treasure should cause even a blind faith person like you to cringe.

jarvis

November 27th, 2012
9:12 am

@bootney, with all of the good that is described in this story, the first two commenters said a lot about their outlook on life in general with the tone of their posts.

Misery loves company, and at least they’ve found each other.

bootney farnsworth

November 27th, 2012
9:16 am

@ jarvis

indeed. kinda sad, isn’t it?

jarvis

November 27th, 2012
9:16 am

I’m originally from Savannah, and if this lady is making a difference at Johnson, it should give hope to the rest of our educational system.

bootney farnsworth

November 27th, 2012
9:20 am

for all the faux fuss about people of faith….

how many hospitals does the democratic party run?
when’s the last time anyone has seen atheists under a banner giving healthcare to the poor?
can’t remember the last time I went to the grocery store and saw the communist party collecting money for the poor at Christmas.

and it IS Christmas, so deal with it.

bootney farnsworth

November 27th, 2012
9:21 am

what’s really a pity is how closed minded some people are that they ignore the good being done to focus and denigrate their motivation

bootney farnsworth

November 27th, 2012
9:22 am

@ jarvis

if the Savannah system is how I remember it, it requires an act of faith to want to teach there.

Raisin Toast Fanatic

November 27th, 2012
9:25 am

If you life of faith is based on totally illogical and convoluted thinking, this will affect every other thing you believe in.

Attempts to downplay the teacher’s credentials and personal beliefs like this only serve to illustrate your illogical & false statements.

There are MULTIPLE real-life examples of those who have personal beliefs yet who are impartial with respect to their profession or etc.

I hardly think some anonymous internet poster with an “axe to grind” is the right one to judge a well-educated instructor with demonstrated quality in teaching.

I feel sorry for you. What kind of life do you have that makes you so miserable you have to attempt to cut others down? Very sad, indeed.

dc

November 27th, 2012
9:26 am

good stuff, thanks for sharing. Great teachers truly make a difference.

Pride and Joy

November 27th, 2012
9:38 am

jarvis, my “tone” in my post was a positive one. I said “bravo!” to their motto, which is a good one.
YOu’ve completely misinterpreted my positive post, which says a great deal about YOU.
Sheesh.
Why is it that you cannot see the good in it?

indigo

November 27th, 2012
9:56 am

Raisn

Did you read my 9:11?

indigo

November 27th, 2012
10:00 am

bootney

http://www.squidoo.com/Atheist-Charities

How many hospitals does the Republican party run?

The last time I went to the grocery store, I did not see the Republican party collecting money for the poor.

Prof

November 27th, 2012
10:49 am

Ms. Bettina Polite Sharp sounds like a remarkable teacher in a difficult school situation with students who badly need educators with faith in their abilities. She went to a local HBCU, Savannah State, and evidently is carrying forward the characteristic “mission” concept of education of HBCUs to strengthen the self-identity of her students as well as their intellectual knowledge. It is a joy to read about her, and I wish that y’all would quit your squabbling about her general faith. It’s just plain irrelevant.

Pride and Joy

November 27th, 2012
10:50 am

I don’t give a hoot about any teacher’s religion as long as they don’t pass on their beliefs to my child. That’s my job.
However, if Bennita’s beliefs gave her a calling to teach and she teaches well, then I say more power to her higher power!

Pride and Joy

November 27th, 2012
11:17 am

I enjoy and relish hearing about good teachers. What would be a good follow-through to this story, Get Schooled, is to hear from the students. As a parent, I want to know why students think this teacher is good. I want to know what, specifically, she does that makes her a model teacher.
I want to know so that I can be supportive from home and so that other teachers can learn what she is doing right so they can emulate her success.

Peter Smagorinsky

November 27th, 2012
12:09 pm

indigo

November 27th, 2012
12:22 pm

Prof – 10:49 “It’s just plain irrelevant”

Like George W. Bush’s faith was irrelevant?

People in positions of influence who are filled with crazed reiigious beliefs are NEVER irrelevant.

Peter Smagorinsky

November 27th, 2012
12:47 pm

I think that Prof meant that squabbles about faith involving George Bush are irrelevant to Bettina’s use of faith in her own life. I find nothing “crazed” about Bettina’s application of faith principles to her teaching, except that I worry she might burn out because she goes at it with such relentless spirit.

Prof

November 27th, 2012
1:19 pm

“Freedom of religion” certainly means also the freedom to HAVE religion. A teacher at a public high school may have private faith, but that does not mean that she teaches that faith in the classroom; and I don’t see any evidence of that here. I also don’t see that educator Tate has the “position of influence” of the President of the United States.

Private Citizen

November 27th, 2012
1:22 pm

Methinks Indigo is an above average camper. “Squabbling about “faith” ” featured so prominently in a government schools discussion is appropriate. Glorifying the Glory is peculiar to the South and bible belt culture in general. It’s a political win every time, unlike someone mumbling kids not having eyeglasses. There are plenty of more functional societies that actually care for their citizens and at the same time do not parade “faith” as some dire thing required to get their job done. In fact, it is almost the difference in civilized and uncivilized societies, how these things are handled. In fact, I will even perform a little theology to support my point. Matthew chapter 6: ““Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them… “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you”

And as far as my commentary, allow me to reference James 4:17 “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Private Citizen

November 27th, 2012
1:27 pm

Peter, equal time for Hindus, Mussulmans, Buddhists, Shinto, and Jew? I mean, at least let’s be fair about it in the great international city.

Helen

November 27th, 2012
1:32 pm

Good teachers makes a difference in the lives of our future leaders. There are many kinds of faiths. Instealing believing and having faith in yourself is the greatest belief to be successful. Continue to do great things for our children.

MiltonMan

November 27th, 2012
1:40 pm

A good teacher in a crappy school & school district. I prefer good teachers in good schools & school districts.

Peter Smagorinsky

November 27th, 2012
1:46 pm

Private Citizen, good point. I do refer to Jews and Muslims in the profile, because that’s whom I’ve known. I would also say that atheists can be highly motivated to do good works, but they don’t do so out of faith adherence. I also know Native American educators who operate from a whole different paradigm whose belief and spiritual systems motivate their instruction in powerful ways (see, e.g., Jacobs, D. T., & Jacobs-Spencer, J. (2001). Teaching virtues: Building character across the curriculum. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.).

I’d love to hear from Hindus, Mussulmans, Buddhists, and Shinto whose belief systems inform and inspire their teaching.

Private Citizen

November 27th, 2012
2:38 pm

British Kids Chanting Vedic Sanskrit Mantras http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4kdjHFBvd4

bootney farnsworth

November 27th, 2012
3:22 pm

@ indigo

I’m sorry you have such a bitter life.

Peter Smagorinsky

November 27th, 2012
3:42 pm

Private Citizen, thanks for posting. I suspect that the British colonialism/imperialism through which they controlled India helps to account for the ongling role of Indian culture in the UK, something we don’t have in the US.

indigo

November 27th, 2012
4:10 pm

bootney

Incredible as it may sound, agnostics really CAN have good lives.

You need to spend more time on your home schooling and less time posting
here. Your lack of education is showing badly.

Private Citizen

November 27th, 2012
8:23 pm

Yes, Peter. They get good curry dishes now in Britain. UK has better Indian restaurants than will ever been seen in the U. S. There’s one or two places to get Halal dishes in Atlanta. I guess the Muslims we’re trying to colonize do not plan on bringing us mass weapons of culinary gifts. They’ll got social healthcare called the “NHS” in Britain, too, and the politicians do not call it “entitlement” and the kids have eyeglasses. Imagine that. Far cry from Georgia. Far cry.

Lee

November 27th, 2012
8:52 pm

“The first quality is possibly the most controversial, yet I suspect is the most fundamental to her sense of mission in education. Bettina is a devout Christian.”

Wow. So being a member of the most predominate religious doctrine in the United States is “controversial”? What kind of politically correct pathosis that?

Just damn.

I will understand women before I will ever understand the inner workings of the politically correct mind.

GACTE

November 27th, 2012
9:52 pm

Congratulations to Georgia Association for Career & Technical Education member Bettina Polite Tate! Bettina is one of the best Marketing Education teachers in Georgia and we are very proud of her recognition on this blog! Career, Technical & Agricultural Education is a critical key to high school and middle school student success.

Anniehall

November 28th, 2012
12:01 am

C’mon, everybody, let’s look a little deeper and consider how faith sustains this teacher and helps her instill a belief in her students in practices that help them 1) visualize futures for themselves and 2) develop practices to make their contributions valuable to employers. Y’all seem to be getting g hung up on your associations of the terms used in this article to stories of the past. Oh, if it’s Christian, let us bring up past president Bush…let us be more willing to look a little deeper, because the question facing us is so critically important for the future of our children and our country. What does it take to instill a respect for the kind of hard work and effort that makes a family, an effort, a city, county, state, country great? Tis surely more important than ensuring one’s own comfort.

Peter Smagorinsky

November 28th, 2012
5:14 am

Lee, please. Yes, most Americans are Christians. If you read the discussion that follows the profile of Bettina, you’ll see that, indeed, framing her teaching in terms of her faith can be controversial. That’s not polical correctness. That’s acknowledging reality.

Lee

November 28th, 2012
6:48 am

So, she feels compelled to teach because of her “…Biblical notions of good works…”

No, that’s not “controversial”.

When she starts sacrificing goats on the playground, or picking up rattlesnakes and dancing around the room, call me – that would be “controversial”.

Ernest

November 28th, 2012
3:31 pm

From one Atom Smasher to another, I’m proud of her accomplishments in the classroom. Congratulations on her promotion where she can hopefully positively impact more students across the district.

Private Citizen

November 28th, 2012
5:45 pm

After the Nazi fiasco in Germany, when they “reconceptualised,” today it is illegal for a teacher in Germany to teach “values” to students. The instruction is limited to content and there is a strong concept of psychological boundaries. Students are to get their “values” from their family or their own selves and they are to get “content” from the schooling, which is the fundamental job of the schools. When the Berlin wall fell and communist East Germany with the Stasi police surveillance and plentiful instruction about “values” and other doctrine from the state, many East German government school teachers had difficulty in adjusting to the new system that formally required them, as defined by law, to not teach “values” to students. Many of the East German teachers had grown accustomed to thinking that teaching “values” equates to being “caring” toward students.

Truth in Moderation

November 30th, 2012
8:20 am

If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. James 2 :15-18

It sounds like Bettina Tate is a living testimony to this Bible passage. She sounds like an awesome teacher and one I would love for my own children to have. She is helping these students to have a future and a means to support themselves. What an inspiration! Thank you for posting this Peter.

As for her detractors, even they are a blessing to her:

“11Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matt. 5:11-12