Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers...

I just finished a project that took me to every elementary school in the county I work for, and while I am glad all the driving around is over I am going to miss the school-based staff that made my visits so much fun. My proverbial batteries have been recharged, and my reasons for working in education have again been solidified and renewed. Spending time in the schools is like drinking deep from the well...

For the record, I could never be a teacher: I lack the patience, commitment, dedication and optimism that they all seem to have in common. Every time I travel to schools I am amazed by the work that is done and the quality of service our schools provide. If you want to start a fight with me that may end in violence, start talking smack about Public Education; it may be far from perfect but until you step in and see what is going on for yourself, I suggest you bite your tongue. Every time I work in a school I get a new amazing story that gives me hope, and tells me that while there is definitely room for improvement, we are doing many things right.

Because of the nature of what I do, I am often in the classroom as a silent witness to the lives of students and the work of staff and teachers; I sit at the computer keyboard and try very hard to stay out of their way and not interrupt their instruction. This vantage point gives me a front-row seat to what happens at a school, and I am grateful that I am allowed this window into their world.

Every school I visited I found people coming to work early, leaving late, and never stopping in between. It was wonderful to see our teachers working together as one united front; they stepped in to help each other manage classroom behavior, shared new lesson plans they found or created, and always helped each other navigate the perils, tasks and issues that come along with being an educator in the 21st-century classroom. The staff shined in their obvious desire to do the best they can for every student, and to try and find the right way to give those children the tools they need to be healthy life-long learners and productive members of this ever-evolving world we live in.

I have often found that the image non-educators have about the work of teachers is no where near reality. Comments like "it must be nice to have summers off" or "I wish I could end my work day at 3pm" now make me want to forcibly re-educate those people. Many of the teachers I worked with had to take second jobs during the summer, and some went from their school day to their part-time tutoring work. I also saw that they arrived at school early to get their classrooms (decorated on their own time and sometimes on their own dime, too) ready for their students, and stayed late to work on the next day's lessons, grade student work, or to work on new techniques to use in their classes. If they actually took time to have lunch (without eating with their students on cafeteria duty) they typically ate in the teacher's work room (call it a lounge and I will give you a serious noogie. A bathroom, soda machine, a plain table, a few uncomfortable plastic chairs and a copier doth not a lounge make, people!) and discussed their concerns and needs with the other teachers to try and work out how to deal with their most difficult issues with others who understand precisely what they are dealing with.

School staff have had to transform themselves into educators, role-models, counselors, advisers, health promoters and protectors every day. I have seen them give love, time, care and even food and clothes to their neediest students all the while providing the best instructional experience for all the students.

So, if you have anything to say about teachers or the state of our education system, then I ask you; what have you done to improve things? Have you joined the PTA? Have you contacted your legislators about increasing funding to our schools? Have you gone to a board meeting? Volunteered at a school? Have you even bought a single magazine, candy bar or bake sale item? I find the ones with the biggest mouths are the ones who do the least to find out what is really going on, do nothing to help better things or change what they do not like. Where do you stand?

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