Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tribute to Teachers

In the past several years since I retired (in 2003), a new custom has played itself out early on the first day of school (today).  After hearing me go on about how nice it was not to have to get up early and go to school and face hordes of students every day, many of whom would rather have been anywhere else, my friends Wanda Boley and Martha Cannon, chorus and math teacher extraordinaire respectively, call me when they are up that day, usually shortly after 5 A.M.  I pretend I am awake and share the joy they feel going off for the first day. It's a great example of teacher humor and cameraderie (and also a reminder that I need to keep my mouth closed when tempted to share my good fortune and happy state).

Ms. Boley and Ms. Cannon are representatives of the people I know who are teachers. I did not come from a family of teachers, although I learned a lot from my parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, but we know a number of people involved in education. Obviously, I continue to be an advocate for teachers, believing it to be "the toughest job you'll ever love" (a slogan used by the Peace Corps, many of whom are teachers). I continue to keep my hand in teaching, working with a young adult Sunday School class and teaching an ESOL class also at our church.  I believe each of us is or has the potential to be a teacher, whether we are showing a child how to tie a shoelace or leading a class in calculus at the college level.

I know there are some who do not share my enthusiasm for teachers and for public education. I am sorry you don't, but unless you were educated by your parents at home (and there are those people), you are where you are today partly because of teachers. (The idea was so well articulated by education advocate Frosty Troy, former editor of the Oklahoma Observer, to which he continues to contribute as well as continues to peak to numerous groups.")

That said, there are some bad teachers. There are some rotten teachers.  They should not be teaching.  And worst of all, there are those few who ignore the sacred trust placed in them and abuse children in their care. I try to be kind and forgiving, but in this case I would gladly help torture anyone convicted of such crimes.  Sorry about the baldness of that statement, but it shows how strongly I feel about the relationship between teacher and student. Jesus also had a few words to say on the subject: "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck." Couldn't agree more. Bring it on.

But I'm here to talk about the teachers we know, to salute them and thank them for what they do.  Some are retired, some  are still active, but all contributed mightly to the development and well-being of children. Starting close to home, there's my wife Becky, who has taught music to generations of children whom she calls "her music babies." It's an incredible to watch her work with a roomful of children and show them how to create beautiful music together.  Then there is our daughter Amy, starting her twelfth year, a natural teacher if I ever saw one. Add to that her fourth grade teaching team at Signal Hill Elementary School and the amazing staff and faculty there.

I've already mentioned Wanda Boley (chorus) and Martha Cannon (math), so beloved by their students. Then, in no particular order, there is Debbie Schlecte (choral director at Parkside) whose groups produce some of the most incredible choral music anyone has ever heard; Susan Briscoe (kindergarten) who takes on the tough kids and makes a difference in their lives; Jane Cole, an enthusiastic and talented elementary music teacher; Mark Dodge, a physics teacher who engages students with unique lessons and who came into teaching from a career at IBM; Jan Cersale, a phenomenal teacher who teaches with Amy at Signal Hill; her daughter Katie, a new mother; Carol Bryant, a former Marine D.I. who teaches Sunday School with me and who has a deep understanding of young people and more ideas than anyone I've ever known; my friends at Robinson, Mike Karpicus, Lisa Green and Tara McCord; former student,  Facebook friend and present English teacher Mary Gallagher Gray; former (and now retired) Robinson head librarian, car pool buddy friend and neighbor Mike Bartlett; his wife Pat, tamer of middle school kids; newly retired Rachel Myers (enjoy!); baseball coach Larry Crowder (coaches are teachers, in essence); retired English teacher Suzie Shaw, who taught both our girls; retired elementary teacher Mary Staggs (and possible cousin with the maiden name of Varner); Nanacy Slusher, who taught at my elemetay school in Fairfax, Westmore; and there are many others I know I have missed (my apologies).

Have a great school year, teachers, students, staff, parents all!  As tiny Tim famously said in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, "God bless us, everyone!"

To close, please consider this portion of a piece by former Oklahoma editor and advocate for public schools and teachers Frosty Troy entitled "A Salute to Teachers":

You want heroes?

Last year the average public school teacher spent $468 of their own money for student necessities -- work books, pencils -- supplies kids had to have but could not afford. That's a lot of money from the pockets of the most poorly paid teachers in the industrial world. Public schools don't teach values? The critics are dead wrong. Public education provides more Sunday school teachers than any other profession. The average teacher works more hours in nine months than the average 40-hour employee does in a year.

You want heroes?

For millions of kids, the hug they get from a teacher is the only hug they will get that day because the nation is living through the worst parenting in history. Many have never been taken to church or synagogue in their lives.

A Michigan principal moved me to tears with the story of her attempt to rescue a badly abused little boy who doted on a stuffed animal on her desk -- one that said, "I love you!" He said he'd never been told that at home.

This is a constant in today's society -- two million unwanted, unloved, abused children in the public schools, the only institution that takes them all in.

You want heroes?

Visit any special education class and watch the miracle of personal interaction; a job so difficult that fellow teachers are awed by the dedication they witness. There is a sentence from an unnamed source which says, "We have been so anxious to give our children what we didn't have that we have neglected to give them what we did What is it that our kids really need? What do they really want? Math, science, history and social studies are important, but children need love, confidence, encouragement, someone to talk to, someone to listen, standards to live by. Teachers provide upright examples, the faith and assurance of responsible people. Kids need to be accountable to caring parents who send well disciplined children to school. These human values are essential in a democracy -- anything that threatens them makes our whole society a little less free, our nation a little less strong. These values can be neither created nor preserved without continuous effort, and that effort must come from more than teachers who have students only six hours of the day.

Despite the problems, public school teachers laugh often and much. They have the respect of intelligent people and the affection of students who care.

Teachers strive to find the best in their students, even where some see little hope. No other American bestows a finer gift than teaching -- reaching out to the brilliant and the retarded, the gifted and the average.

Teachers leave the world a little bit better than they found it, knowing if they have redeemed just one life, they have done God's work. They are America's unsung heroes.

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