[Editor’s note: teacherken is a high school social studies teacher in the MD suburbs of DC and an active blogger on education and other subjects. This post was originally posted at Daily Kos, where it was on the recommended list.]
I have just finished reading a book I have to review entitled Be a Teacher. One of the editors is Phil Bigler, who has won all three of the big national teaching awards: Disney, Milken and National Teacher of the Year. It is a book aimed at those considering teaching or near the start of their teaching careers, and is subtitled with “You Can Make A Difference” and is listed as “by America’s Finest teachers.” It contains reflections by Bigler and his coauthor, herself an award winner, and 12 others who have been greatly honored for their own teaching. It is an interesting book, and when I do write my review I promise to cross-post it or summarize it here.
Today I am going to crib from one appendix, and then offer a few additional remarks of my own. This won’t be long. I encourage you to keep reading.
Appendix B contains “Twenty-Five Inspirational Quotations about Teachers and Teaching.” I want to offer a few of these, and then offer some comments of my own.
A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where is influence stops.
- Henry Adams
Teaching is a timeless profession. It is the basis of all other professions. Good teachers plant seed that make good doctors, good accountants, good public servants, good statesmen, good taxi drivers, and good astronauts. When former students return to see me over the years, my heart fills up in the knowledge that I have been part of a wonderful accumulation of experiences that followed them through life.
- Mary Bicouvaris
If your plan is for a year, plant rice. If your plan is for a decade, plant trees. If our plan is for a lifetime, educate children.
I am a teacher because of teachers. They showed me that someone other than my mother could love me.
- Guy Doud
In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.
- Lee Iacocca
What else is needed is something that teachers themselves are reluctant to talk about openly and it’s our respect for them. It’s what is missing in America, and it’s what has been too long withheld from a profession so important to our national well being, as important as doctors or captains of industry or TV commentators. From sunup to sundown, the school teachers you have seen tonight work harder than you do – no matter what you do. No calling in our society is more demanding than teaching. No calling in our society is more selfless than teaching. No calling in our society is more central to the vitality of a democracy than teaching.
- Roger Mudd
To me the sole hope of human salvation lies in teaching.
- George Bernard Shaw
Each of these quotes speaks to me, not merely because I am a teacher, although that is part of it. Like Guy Doud, I am in part a teacher because of other teachers, and love – directly expressed or not – was certainly part of it. It was my AP American History teacher Thomas Rock who challenged me to live up to what I could do, and it was Music Professor John Davison who demonstrated the deep love for every student who passed through his care, including me. I hope that I return both lessons with my own students.
I know the importance of respect. I cannot demand it from my students but must earn it, in large part by acting with respect towards them. It might be helpful were the media and many politicians and far too many parents not reinforcing a different attitude. In part it is because we do not pay teachers, and if they make so little, they cannot be that important, right? Except, as I might note, in one 45 minute period I spend more quality time with some of my students than they get from their parents, which is a different tragedy. Our society needs to reexamine how we value people, and not have such an emphasis on money and overt power.
The Henry Adams quote is one I have long cherished. The affects of my own teachers continue on me today. And I have now taught long enough to be no longer be surprised at some of the students who come back to thank me. It worries me that some of my long-term affects upon students might not be so salutary, which is one reason I try to be aware of how my words and actions can have impact far beyond their immediate purpose. I am only in my 13th year of teaching, but am already experiencing some of what Mary Bicouvaris writes about.
If you are a parent, you have every right to demand that your children’s teachers see them as individuals, but please remember yours may be one of almost 200 children that teacher deals with every day. If you want more personal attention for your child, demand smaller classrooms, lower student loads per teacher so that they are capable of giving that attention.
If you are a policy maker, remember that the decisions you make can support or prevent the kind of teaching environment that makes a difference in the life of a child. Teaching is about much more than cramming information into heads so that it can be given back on high stakes tests which really do not tell us all that much useful information.
All of us have had teachers. And even if we were too shy, or too stubborn, to express our thanks at the time, we can always drop a note or make a call, or if possible stop by and say hello, and thank those who made a difference for us. Sometimes we worry about the students who pass through our care, that we did not do enough, care enough, and it can help a teacher who is wondering whether to continue the struggle to hear of the differences s/he made. Sometimes that can be the one thing that keeps a teacher going for one more year.
I know I can make a difference. And I am not making these requests on my own behalf. But while I claim to speak for no one except myself, I also acknowledge that I have a voice – and a keyboard – that seems to be able to express in ways others may not be able to, to reach eyes and ears and minds to which many do not have access.
So this is my offering today. It is about the importance of teachers. You probably already know about that importance, but I figured a gentle reminder might not hurt.