“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” — Albert Einstein
After a spectacular and nearly record-breaking summer in Seattle, it’s odd to see the bright school buses scooting around town as the children, sporting heavy backpacks, anticipate another year of learning. What the eager little people (and the rest of us for that matter) take for granted is that before the dawn of back to school morning, their teachers have been dedicating dozens of their precious summer hours preparing, strategizing, gearing up, and creating an engaging learning environment. This entry is dedicated to teachers—honorable and noble professionals who do so much more than drill young minds in grammar, mathematics and scientific principles.
I met my favorite teacher in the third grade. Mrs. Parent. I fondly remember her smile, her welcoming and cheerful classroom. In the days way before the web allowed teachers to record grades on-line, she’d send us home each Friday with a hand written progress report, so our parents could stay informed of our scholastic success. Next to each of the subjects, Mrs. Parent would indicate an “S” for satisfactory, an “N” for needs improvement, and an “O” for outstanding. And whenever we received an “O”, Mrs. Parent would embellish the letter with a smiley face. Progress reports with all “O’s” received special praise and rewards both at school and at home. Mrs. Parent taught us how to sing. Her 1970’s glittery electric keyboard was off limits for us, but I remember sitting on the floor and learning to sing, “I’m on the top of the world,” and, “I’d like to teach the world to sing,” and “It’s a small, small world.” Mrs. Parent read to us. I looked forward to story time just as much as our music lesson. Our imaginations were fed by classics like “James and the Giant Peach.” On rare rainy days, Mrs. Parent would allow some of us to stay inside during lunch—which was a coveted, by invitation only, privilege. Mrs. Parent clearly loved being a teacher. She made learning real, engaging, and enchanting. Decades later I remember and appreciate her influence.
In college I met my favorite professor. Dr. Richards. She did not embellish her classrooms in cheerful décor. Nor did we receive weekly progress reports with smiley faces. However, Dr. Richards amazed me with the depth and breadth of her knowledge. She quoted Aristotle and Socrates with ease and taught me how to design an effective persuasive argument. She pushed and challenged my academic curiosity. I studied more fiercely and fought for every “A”. And while Dr. Richards had many more than the two dozen students Mrs. Parent nurtured, she still made time to connect and encourage. Indeed, Dr. Richards helped shape the direction of my career and life’s work. Decades later, I remember and appreciate her influence.
The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called “truth.” ~Dan Rather
We hear a lot these days in the media about the decline in the quality of education. Teaching, however, has become a very competitive profession, where many qualified and motivated teachers vie for a limited number of positions. Teachers are pushed and pressured to mold their curriculum to include little in way of enrichment. Teachers are asked to conform to standards, provide rubrics and measurement to help ensure “no child is left behind.” (Or as many teachers will say: “No teacher left standing.”) What a load of malarkey! When I think of the great teachers in my life, I recall very little of the specific content imparted. What I remember is their influence—the experience and wisdom they shared. Their love for learning. Their encouragement to not settle for good enough—but to put my best into everything.
Teachers today put up with a much different set of parameters than they did a generation ago. Yet, these noble and honorable folk who choose to teach are the influencers of the future. Their task is not easy. The rewards are sometimes difficult to see on a day to day basis. Rather than having rules about passing notes, teachers today have rules about iPods and texting. The world is more complex. Nevertheless, the need for a teacher’s guidance has never been more crucial.
Hail to the teachers! May you each realize the profound and real effect you have on lives every single day you spend in your classroom. Happy back to school!
For the rest of us, when we have opportunities to show support of teachers through ballot measures, school levies or political representation, let’s vote for the resources and support to allow real, engaging, and enchanting learning.