While discussing faith, I am reminded of a lyric from an old religious song: “Let hope rise and darkness tremble.” That is a powerful and optimistic statement for those who share a strong belief in God.

I am also convinced that our purpose in life is directly linked to the clarity of our own vision for the future. Too many people imagine a bleak and hopeless future, and it shows in choices they make in their work, their relations and in their outlook on life. The glass is half empty. Darkness and desolation will always be all they see and find.

I had an opportunity to spend a few hours with a friend of mine, Karolyn Marino, as she taught her Kindergarten class. She was bursting with enthusiasm and energy to match that of her pupils. Karolyn told me that her job was not only to reach every child in her class, no matter their level of knowledge on a subject, but to also make sure that her classroom was one of optimism and hopefulness. Her interaction with children went beyond the walls of the schools. The children knew no matter what awaited them at home, for the hours that they were in Miss Karolyn’s class, they were warmly welcomed and loved. She is also one of the top teachers in her school district. Kids learn when they are loved.

As one of her goals, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn stated she wants to make sure that our schools are equipped to serve the academic and non-academic needs of all kids. That means that schools and districts will have better access to online tools, statewide partnerships and more resources for schools. That is a good and positive direction for our educators and our students. We look forward to working with her on this agenda in Tennessee.

Schwinn also has brought up a subject she wants to champion: character education. This too, should help our students make more meaningful contributions to our society. In a world where it is getting more difficult to determine right from wrong, maybe we do need to step back and look at some of those basic attributes we call character development and reinforce them at school. Loving our neighbors should be innate, but if it is not, we can show the way by practicing what we preach.

Martin Luther King said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” King’s words still ring true.

I am a believer in public education. But I also understand that what that we have gone down a few rabbit holes and lost focus at times. Change will continue and, in education at least, more change is on the way. We should welcome the debate over change in public education and continue the discussion, knowing that a one size fits all strategy does not work in any school, district or community.

Public education is at a crossroads in Tennessee. People say it is broken and beyond repair. I tell those critics that they are wrong. We succeed every single day in small victories across our classrooms and schools. Our success far outweighs our failures and we can acknowledge those failures and take on those challenges head-on.

Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t. When the light of hope comes, darkness has no place. Darkness is driven away by light. Let hope rise and darkness tremble. Public education has a bright future.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.