Teachers Are Losers

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Donald Trump, Jr. was absolutely right when he said teachers were losers.

  • Teachers lose money buying their own supplies for the classroom.
  • Teachers lose sleep grading papers and worrying about their “kids.”
  • Teachers lose large chunks of time outside of school coaching and supervising extracurriculars.
  • Teachers lose heart when they can’t get through to one of their students.
  • Teachers lose hope when know-nothings like Trump, Jr., denigrate them and their profession in public.

May is traditionally the month in which school and parent communities show their appreciation for the hard-working educators that spend hours every day with our children. Special breakfasts, goodie bags, flowers, and the like are prepared to make teachers feel special.

But the teaching profession is losing ground. A report by CBS News states, “Teachers are earning almost 2 percent less than they did in 1999 and 5 percent less than their 2009 pay, according to the Department of Education.” (Aimee Picchi, “School’s back in session, but many teachers aren’t returning,” August 23, 2018) Teacher pay is only one factor explaining the attrition in qualified teachers. The climate at many schools and the lack of leadership has caused many teachers to leave the field well shy of retirement age. And the numbers of college students planning to major in education has dropped.

I believe that what is contributing to the decline in the ranks of teachers in America is the public’s perception of teachers as lazy, entitled complainers who get their summers off.  In other industrialized countries, the teaching profession is well paid and well respected. Here in America we subscribe to the old saw, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

So while our little ones pick flowers from their gardens to bring to their teachers this month, it would behoove all of us to consider the hard work and dedication it takes to educate the next generation. It’s time to stand up for teachers and support them in the difficult job they have of making sure our children can read, compute, reason, and live responsibly in our society.

If we fail to respect the education profession, we are going to be the losers.

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Teacher Appreciation

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I’ve been noticing lots of Facebook posts about Teacher Appreciation Week. Although it’s been decades since I dusted the chalk off my hands and left teaching, I still consider it one of the great highlights of my life.

My inspiration came from a tiny, curmudgeonly old English teacher named Mr. Stringfellow. Mr. Stringfellow was a legend in my high school for being grumpy and exacting. So I was a little scared on the first day of senior year when I walked into his British Lit class.

At the front of the classroom stood a small man slightly hunched over, with black hair, glasses, and a deep scowl. We started right in with Beowulf and Canterbury Tales, and I was smitten. Although it proved true that Mr. Stringfellow had stringent standards and did not suffer fools gladly, he also lit up from within when reading or discussing great literature.

Mr. Stringfellow taught me how to analyze literature deeply. He would stand at the front of the room and intone the words of Keats: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Once he read my essay on Lady Macbeth out loud to the class and proclaimed, “This is the closest thing I’ve ever read to a scholarly paper in high school.” I wore the back-handed compliment like a badge of honor.

There have been other special teachers in my life. Mrs. Rollow inspired me to become enthralled with journalism. Her question to us on the first day of class, “Which is more important: a free society or a free press?”, ignited a lively intellectual debate. In the age of Watergate and the Washington Post reporting that eventually brought down a president, I aspired to become an investigative journalist. There wasn’t much scandal to be unearthed in my suburban high school, but I still reveled in my days as reporter and then editor on the school newspaper.

Away at college, I kept thinking back to these two inspirational educators from my high school years. Aside from their obvious passion for their subject matter, Mr. Stringfellow and Mrs. Rollow loved their students and tried to get the best out of them. Where Mr. Stringfellow was exacting and begrudging with a smile, Mrs. Rollow was delightfully wry and witty.  But I looked up to them both with something akin to hero worship. My decision to teach was a natural outgrowth of their inspiration.

The impact of great teachers cannot be overstated. Their long hours and indefatigable efforts to help students achieve deserve recognition, not only every year, but every day of the year.

Here’s to great teachers past, present, and future. They truly change lives.

Teachers Rule

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In my last post, I extolled the virtues of the best teachers and pointed out how important good teachers are to the development of our children. Yet as I wrote that post, a contentious contract negotiation has been taking place (or getting stalled) between our high school district and its teachers.

The school board is trying to hold the line on teacher pay raises and at the same time ask the teachers to shoulder a greater portion of health insurance premiums. Much is being made about the fact that the teachers in our district are already some of the best paid in the state. To which I respond, Touché! Bravo for us! But in order to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers, we need to continue offering the most competitive salaries and benefits in the area.

I understand that school boards need to be fiscally responsible. And no one wants to pay more in taxes – except maybe Warren Buffett. But it’s not as if we are making teachers rich while we languish in poverty. For that reality, our community should consider itself luckier than many. As a matter of fact, a highly regarded school raises property values for the entire community, whether or not you have school-aged children.

Our school facilities are not the most up to date. Both high schools could use major facelifts, it’s true. But in our district, we taxpayers put our money where it counts – into teacher salaries. After all, a gleaming new school building with state of the art equipment is meaningless without the students and teachers that fill it each day.

As summer wanes and we prepare to send our precious cargo (aka, the kids) off to school in the fall, let’s remember that it will be our teachers who welcome them, nurture them and help them grow intellectually and emotionally. Just as happy moms make for happy families, happy teachers create healthy schools.

In Loco Parentis

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This morning I read a post entitled “I Don’t Think Teachers Know What They’re Doing.” No, it’s not a diatribe about the poor state of education in America. It’s a lovely homage to the teachers who have graced the lives of the writer’s children. As I read the piece, I reflected on how true that statement is, in both the positive and negative sense. Teachers have no idea the dramatic impact they can have on a student’s life – for better or worse.

The number one criterion for a teaching certificate should be a love for children. I just don’t understand why anyone would want to spend his or her days with dozens – or in the case of secondary school – hundreds of students without being absolutely crazy about kids. My children’s elementary school has seen a succession of lackluster and, in some cases, even mean-spirited principals. Finally the district asked for parental input on choosing a new one. The predominant request from parents was simple: a person who likes kids. The feedback worked! The school now has a principal whose former students adore him, who plays guitar, and who recently sent home a video of himself roller blading through the hallways of the school to “check on” the facilities. Who wouldn’t love to go to a school with such a man at the helm?

On the negative side, I have seen souls crushed by cold and unfeeling teachers. When my oldest child was in kindergarten, she had a cold and controlling teacher. Each afternoon she had the children line up to shake her hand and say goodbye. My daughter, an affectionate six-year-old, would always give her a giant hug, but Mrs. M. never returned it. I had to wonder why this woman would choose to teach, not just children, but the youngest ones.  A kindergarten teacher should be a second mom or dad, not an authoritarian dictator.

Our schools are known to function in loco parentis, which means literally “in place of the parent.” I believe educators should see this role beyond its strict legal definition. School should be a child’s home away from home, especially when many children’s home environments are stressful and chaotic. And when you think about it, on a school day children spend more time interacting with teachers than with their parents. Teachers are so much more than dispensers of knowledge and skill. They shape students’ lives.

My senior year of high school, I had a curmudgeonly but lovable old teacher named Mr. Stringfellow. When Mr. Stringfellow put that British Lit anthology under my nose and expounded on the beauty of literature, he truly did not know what he was doing. He was creating a future teacher. When I became a teacher, my students were almost literally my kids. I cared about them and tried to nurture their curiosity and creativity along with their reading and writing skills. I went to their athletic events, concerts and plays. When my first batch of students graduated four years later, I was like a proud mama as I watched them cross the stage to receive their diplomas.

Of course we should expect our teachers to be well educated and smart. Good teachers need sound mastery of their subject matter and an arsenal of teaching and discipline techniques. But they also need a large and generous heart. These are the teachers our children will remember and perhaps credit with some of their achievements.

If you would like to read the post “I Don’t Think Teachers Know What They’re Doing,” please click on the following link:  https://womenwithworth.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/i-dont-think-teachers-know-what-theyre-doing/