Sunday, October 7, 2012

Valuing Teachers

I've written about teaching but I haven’t written about how disappointing it is that our society, this great American society, this culture of opportunities and riches, has failed for the past 50 years to truly value the work of K-12 teachers. I don’t know when things changed from being a society that reveres its teachers to one that treats teachers as if they were the lowest white-collar workers on the totem pole. 

Are there awful teachers? Yes.  Is being kept in your job when you're not doing it well acceptable?  No.  Should teachers be unaccountable for results?  Not completely. But are teachers the reason kids don’t learn?  Com’on.  You know better.  And when people are successful and receive awards for their accomplishments in those heartfelt speeches, whom do they recognize?  Their accountant?  Their lawyer?  Their doctor or banker?  They acknowledge the difference in their lives that a TEACHER made.  It only takes one great teacher to turn a life around.

Every now and then, films do a good job of recognizing and celebrating the life and sacrifice and commitment of an extraordinary teacher — Mr. Holland’s Opus, Lean On Me, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, The Ron Clark Story, Children of a Lesser God.

I recently saw a film on television that made me remember how hard it is to go in to a classroom when you’re a newbie.

Beyond the Blackboard is a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV-movie (2011) based on the book Nobody Don't Love Nobody by Stacey Bess, a first-time teacher who went into the dismal-est of situations to teach a group of homeless children in a shelter.  There is no classroom — just a crumbling, deteriorating room in a warehouse that is a mess.  With zero resources and little experience to draw on, Stacey (sincerely played by Emily Van Camp) is upset, overwhelmed and sinking. But she puts aside her personal expectations (like Shackleton) and perseveres to engage the children, and even tougher   she manages to engage their troubled parents.  It is a story of grit, sacrifice and commitment  traits of character every good teacher has  and Stacy has all those qualities plus integrity, because she continues to do what's right, even at great personal cost.

But beyond the dozen or so movies that celebrate these heroes in our lives and those of our children, how often do we honor and acknowledge what hard-working, gifted teachers do?  In fact, the better question is: How often do we denigrate the profession?  "Teachers.  They sure have it easy."  "Out at three every day?  Wish I had a job with summers off."  And the absolute worst insult: "Those who can do.  Those who can't teach."  

One way to value a teacher is that holiday or end-of-year gift. Those gifts could be a great way to thank teachers for all their hard work, but  as one teacher wrote (almost in a plea) all those mugs and trinkets (times 25, 30 or more students) are NOT appreciated  it would be FAR more valuable and appreciated "if everyone just chipped in a dollar or two for a gift certificate" that would allow teachers to get something they actually want and could use. I don't think that's too much to ask and it IS a better way to repay all the times a teacher has dug into her (or his) pocket for OUR kids. 

Yes, I've gotten my share of mugs (and regifted so many) but I must say, at times, I've been pretty lucky in the gift department. Some great Christmas ornaments that I've still got in my collection and when I see them on my tree, fondly remind me of that student and that class of kids.  But the best present I ever received was made by Marcus Deardorf's (?) mom.  Amazingly she hand-painted a stool  one for my team-teacher Nicole (with a cat wearing glasses just like hers) and this one for me 
with this quotation:

"A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account is, or the the sort of house I live in, or the kind of car I drive, but the world may be a better place because........I am important in the life of a child."

And what is the name of the teacher who made a difference in your life?  
Go on. Write below.  Thank that someone who understood you, made you feel special  and made all the difference in your world.

UPDATE: I happily reconnected with my team-teacher Nicole who sent me a picture of her stool which says something equally admiring of teachers...

A Teacher takes a hand,
                                            opens a mind,
    touches a heart.


  1. You are so right! In 7th grade, I had a great teacher, Mr. Greimsman. He taught social studies and was completely aware of the different ways people learn. Whatever the subject, he encouraged each person in our class to show him what we learned through something we felt good about. So, I often would draw info. One person would play the piccolo! I learned a lot that year and even now, I often think of him!

  2. I really appreciated Miss Hudson who taught me Geometry at Northern Highlands. She was a great teacher and because of it I loved Geometry!

  3. I want to add that I probably have a greater appreciation for all the incredibly wonderful teachers that have invested in my children's lives and help make them the well rounded, quality adults they are today. As a parent I needed them to help balance out and support my parenting. Now I feel the same way about my grandchildren's teachers. Teachers are the foundation of our future as a society. They should be valued much more than they are and compensated better too.