The 2018 graduation season has begun! I love getting the announcements from young adults who have followed dreams and reached new heights. So far, I've attended one ceremony and plan to go to at least two more. I'll make eye contact with my graduate, standing on tiptoe and making a fuss; I'll read all the names; I'll pay attention. When it's done, I'll weave through the masses, give quick hugs and high-fives, and then I'll make my way to my car to wait for the traffic to clear. And it will be worth it. In this post, a re-run from 2017, I explain why.
The 2017 graduation season has been an eventful one for the Lawrimore family and friends. First to turn the tassel this year was our soon-to-be daughter-in-law who received her undergrad degree from UNC. As for high school, we have two nephews, one niece, and our daughter’s boyfriend graduating.
It’s a big year. And I won’t make it to all of the ceremonies (two happen at the same time on the same day), but I’ll do my best to get to most. Those graduates who I don’t get to see in person will know I wanted to be a part of their day. They will know I am not casually dismissing this moment in their lives.
Now, I love graduation ceremonies. I don’t even mind bad ones. Wait. That’s not exactly true. There is one exception: a 2016 graduation ceremony I attended at a “Christian” school was so offensive that it required every iota of self-restraint I possess to keep from opening up a great big can of Aunt Aileen all up in that place. To be fair, I was already ticked off at the school because I felt they had done an awful job of educating my beloved nephew. As a whole, they missed the blessing of his uniqueness, his gifts, his potential. (If I’m completely honest, I’d concede that a good bit of Aunt Aileen had already been spilled in these judgmental halls that, by their infinite ineptitude and unmerciful demeanor, had in essence been using the name of God in vain. But I digress.) Anyway, the graduation for less than 40 students lasted for over two hours. Not much fun for Angry Aileen.
Still, I’m glad I went. In fact, I would do it all again to be there when my nephew graduated. Totally, completely worth it.
In general, though, I love the pomp and circumstance of graduation. I love the academic regalia of the faculty, the students in caps and gowns, the formal presentations. But even if I couldn’t stand that stuff, I would attend graduations. You see, I believe that it is positively irrelevant whether or not I enjoy the graduation ceremony. On that day, at that moment, it’s not about me; it’s about the graduates.
Let’s say I’m attending a graduation and I don’t like the speaker. Or the music. Or even the institution where the ceremony is held. Maybe it’s the experience that is unpleasant. The seats are uncomfortable; it’s too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet; or the ceremony is way too long and if someone had just thought this through, for goodness sakes, we could have been done a long time ago.
It doesn’t matter. Here’s what matters: it matters that I’m there. And it matters that you’re there too.
By attending graduation, you are saying a number of things. First, you are telling your beloved that you care about transitions. High school graduation is the first major transition for these kids since they left home for kindergarten. It’s a big, big deal. By being there at the moment of transition, you are saying to the student, “You are not making this change alone. You, graduate, are not being thrown out of school, into a black hole of uncertainty all by yourself. I am right here with you.”
Secondly, you are telling the graduate that you will be there for endings, not just beginnings. You will be saying to them, “You know how you are concerned that the friendships you’ve made over these last years will end? Know this: your relationship with me? It is forever. I will still be your sister, brother, uncle, aunt. I will still be your mother, your mentor, your lifelong friend. I know it feels like everything familiar is ending. But I’m not. I’m here. I will always be here.”
Thirdly, you are saying, “Your celebrations are my celebrations. When you succeed, I delight.” Sure, these graduates will have other—probably (hopefully) more significant—accomplishments over the course of their lives. Celebrate those too. But graduation offers a unique opportunity to celebrate the completion of an extended task. Finishing that which we have begun is an important habit to develop and maintain. By attending graduation, you are saying, “Finishing things matters. This is a big deal.”
Finally, you are saying to your graduate that inconvenience will never be your primary concern when it comes to milestone moments in that student’s life. So what if you had to drive all night to get there? Who cares if the experience isn’t exactly pleasant? You are there to witness three things: the processional, the graduate’s walk across the stage, and the recessional. Everything else is just extra.
It’s true: I love graduations. But I love the graduates more. So I’ll be there in the audience, watching for my graduate. And when I make eye contact with my beloved, I hope the message is clear: “You matter to me and I will always be here for you. Always.”
One of my favorite books is Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages. The truths of this book have guided me in relationships and in ministry. Chapman's premise is that individuals give and receive love in different ways; that is, we speak different languages when it comes to communicating love. Chapman has identified five love languages: Gifts, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Acts of Service, and Words of Affirmation. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and it occurs to me that Chapman's book offers insight that might help us encourage our teachers.
Gifts. Chapman makes it clear that the cost of the gift is not the issue. A person whose love languages is gifts, feels just as beloved when the gift is a picture drawn by a child as she does when it is a pricey trinket. The point is to have something tangible. Teachers might enjoy gift cards to a nearby restaurant, items for their classrooms such as school or office supplies, or personal remembrances like flowers or photographs.
Physical Touch. Often, when people hear this one, they think Chapman is referring only to intimate affection. Not true. Those who understand love best through physical touch, appreciate hugs and pats on the back, facials and massages. So, some teachers might really appreciate like a gift certificate for a manicure, pedicure, facial, or massage. Manicures are not terribly expensive and are a real treat for some people. (Do remember to cover the tip in your gift though so that the teacher doesn't have to pay out-of-pocket in order to receive your gift.)
Quality Time. The important aspect of this love languages is presence. I've heard teachers express deep gratitude to those who support their work simply by being present. Is there a teacher in your life who you might visit this week? You could volunteer to read to students, or maybe you could attend a school program or club event. Teachers give so much time to our students, it can be a real blessing when others give a little of their personal time to be a part of the teacher's world for a bit. If you can invest the time, you will be communicating to these educators that what they are doing makes a difference.
Acts of Service. In this case, the languages Quality Time and Acts of Service are closely related. For some teachers, your presence alone will be encouraging. Others will feel even more blessed if you offer to help them with some of the endless task required of them. This teacher might be happy to leave you in the classroom right by yourself with a necessary task such as grading papers, filing, tutoring, or something else. Teachers rarely have all the help they need. Volunteer your time and teachers whose love language is Quality Time will feel truly appreciated, loved even.
Words of Affirmation. This is the easiest for me to communicate because this is my own love language. I enjoy writing notes or emails, sending texts or messages to tell people I value them. I've also written notes on teachers' white boards and on post-it notes left on their desks. Additionally, I try always to comment on excellence, especially to school administrators. Consider encouraging students to write notes to their teachers. It's never too late: I've heard stories of teachers who received letters from people they taught years, if not decades earlier. These letters are treasures.
Whichever expression you choose, appreciate your local educators this week. And then do it again next week. And the next. Because really: one week couldn't possibly be enough to thank our teachers for all they do for humanity.
And teachers? Thanks. You totally rock!
In my life as student and as parent, I’ve been blessed to know a number of outstanding public school principals. Among this elite group, is Oakley Elementary School’s former principal Linda Allison. What I loved most about Linda Allison was that she never put process ahead of pupil. Her compassion for students was matched only by her commitment to their success. Seriously, Ms. Allison should train new principals. She is that good.
When I learned that she was retiring (after I dried my tears), I wrote a story in her honor and later read it at her final faculty meeting. That was about 9-10 years ago. This year, my oldest will graduate from college and my youngest from high school. Their brother is finishing his sophomore year of college. But despite the passage of years, I remain so grateful to Ms. Allison for her leadership, dedication, and just her natural intuition as an educator.
So for this thank you note, I offer the story I wrote for Ms. Allison—the Little Red Hen of Oakley Elementary School. Thank you Linda Allison for setting the bar so high. I count you as one of the great blessings of my life. And so do my little chicks.
Once upon a time there was a little red hen who lived on a teaching farm that existed solely to train young farmers. The chickens on the farm, all one big family, got together and chose the little red hen as the principal of the farm. The little red hen was honored. She found great joy in sharing her life and work with her many brothers and sisters. Together they kept the farm running smoothly.
Unfortunately, the little red hen also had to work with three other animals who thought they owned the whole farm: a turtle named Wright Procedure who moved very slowly; a parrot named Polly Tisshun, who maintained a spotless image, talked a lot, but did very little, and an elephant named Feddy Govment who thought he knew everything, even though he didn’t even live on the same farm as the little red hen.
One day, the little red hen came upon a child and his parents.
“We want our child to have the best education, the best learning environment, and the best playmates the world can offer,” the parents instructed as they hugged the child and got back in their car, “We can’t stand around talking about it though, we have jobs, you know!” The parents drove away, leaving the child with the little red hen.
“Oh my, aren’t you a fine young fellow!” clucked the little red hen as she pulled the tyke under her wing. “Welcome to our farm!”
About that time a few of her brothers and sisters came down the path and she introduced them to the child. “Let’s get busy and teach this child how to feed the animals!” She smiled at the spark in the child’s eyes and in the eyes of the teachers.
But before the other chickens could even respond, Wright Procedure, the turtle who moved very slowly, poked his head out of his shell and said, “Stop everything! Don’t do anything until we get these forms filled out. We’ll need permission from the parents and clearance from the pediatrician. Plus, we’ll need a waiver signed by each of the animals the child will be feeding. Also. . .”
While Wright the turtle droned on, several of the little red hen’s sisters took the child down to the barn and started the lessons. The little red hen, back in the farm office, filled out the necessary paperwork. She called the pediatrician who put her on hold: “Important, urgent issues demand the doctor’s attention!” Once the little red hen had completed the child’s file she went to check on the child’s progress.
“WOW!” she said to her siblings “You have done a great job teaching the child how to feed the animals. I believe we can promote the child to animal grooming.”
“Well, I certainly agree,” cooed Polly Tisshun, the talkative parrot with the spotless image. She smiled to the camera operator who had come along with her. Wouldn’t you agree, Little Red Hen that my program Accelerated Feeders has, well, haha, accelerated this child’s progress?” The camera clicked more pictures as Polly fluttered over and perched herself on the child’s shoulder.
“Well, Polly, I’d be happy to talk to you about that,” said the little red hen, as she motioned Polly off of the child and toward her office. The other chickens stepped in and hurried the child onto the next lesson.
But before the little red hen could leave with Polly, Feddy Govment the elephant who thought he knew everything, lumbered down to the barn. “Has the child mastered animal bathing yet?” he asked, his ears flopping.
“Well, no,” said the little red hen, about to explain that the other chickens were just beginning that phase of the training.
“What’s wrong with those teachers?” Feddy stomped his feet upsetting the animals and causing the teachers to cease training long enough to settle the animals. The child observed, learning, in the process, how to calm animals in the event of a disturbance.
“And anyway,” Feddy shouted, “Look at that kid! He’s not DOING anything! And the teachers are just running around like chick. . .well, like chickens do sometimes.” Feddy looked around, waving his trunk from side to side and looking everywhere except at the little red hen.
The little red hen started to explain. “The child has made remarkable prog. . .”
“Then give him the Animal Grooming Test!” thundered Feddy.
“I have one right here,” said Wright Procedure, the turtle who though he moved very slowly, always managed to find his way into the middle of any activity.
The child did not pass the test and so he had to take the actual course material. The teachers received official reprimands for their negligence and the farm was placed on probation until the child passed the test.
In the midst of the crisis, the little red hen was called away to meet with Wright Procedure the turtle, Polly Tisshun the Parrot, and Feddy Govment the elephant. A committee was formed to study effective teaching of animal grooming and the three friends recommended strategies for school reform that might, in time, bring the farm up to par. Their first recommendation: they would visit the barn immediately following the meeting. As the meeting ended, the little red hen’s cell phone rang.
“The child’s parents are here,” said the chicken on the line. We need you back here at once.”
The little red hen arrived at the barn before Wright, Polly, and Feddy did. (They had, as it turns out, been left behind.) The parents appeared worried, tired, and confused. They had seen the news and gotten the test results for the school.
“Welcome,” The little red hen said to the mom and dad, genuinely happy they'd come. She listened to their concerns, made notes for herself, and responded to their comments. They left, after a quick tour of the barn, saying they felt much better.
Time passed and in what seemed like a moment, the child had completed the requirements for Elementary Barn and it was time for him to move on. The little red hen, gathered friends and family and asked, “Who will help me celebrate this child?”
“I will!” said Wright Procedure, sticking his head out of his shell. He began designing a flow chart so that he could celebrate properly.
“I will!” said Polly Tisshun, wearing her red plume that she saved just for such occasions. “My camera crew is all set up to capture the moment.”
“I will!” said Feddy as he galumphed through the door and tried to take over the room.
“OH NO YOU WILL NOT!” Said the little red hen fluffing herself up to her full height and glaring at Wright, Polly, and Feddy. The little red hen extended her wing and gestured at the teachers who stood between the child and the three intruders.
"We will celebrate this child. We prepared this child. We taught this child We love this child. My brothers and sisters and I will celebrate this child.”
And they did. While Wright Procedure, Polly Tisshun, and Feddy Government looked on, completely befuddled.
In a continued celebration of my 50th birthday on 7-22-2015, I’m writing 50 thank you notes in 50 weeks. This one to Ms. Linda Allison is #15. Please click on the tag "50 Thank You Notes" to read the others.
See, whether we like it or not, we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failure underscores the lesson, highlighting it for future reference. It points to areas of growth and opportunities for improvement. Success feels good in the moment, but failure can benefit a person for a lifetime.
Still, the mother in me—and the aunt for that matter—hates to see children I love experience the pain of disappointment. I’ve seen it plenty of times though. Here are just three of examples.
In each case, though, my children learned more from these failures than they ever would have from succeeding in the same situation. My oldest learned that careful research is actually its own reward, no matter what an impartial judge may say. My son has developed persistence that is unrivaled; loss never diminishes his resolve. My youngest, still spunky and opinionated, discovered that true conviction is more important than academic assessment.
None of those valuable life lessons could have been acquired through success. It took failure to teach them the hard lessons.
Knowing this does not mean I want my kids to fail. I don’t. I never celebrate when my beloveds fall short of their objectives. (Frankly, if I had my way, my kids would never even have a bad hair day, let alone a true heartbreak.) When things don’t go their way, I grieve with them and share their disappointment.
But over time, as tears dry up and emotions settle, I do my best to uncover the blessing in the setback. And it’s always there. Always.
Dear Mrs. Sorrells,
This isn’t the first time I’ve thanked you. You taught my oldest daughter in 2003 and my son in 2005; I told you then how much I appreciated your classroom expertise. But in the years since, I’ve come to value your teaching, and that of other Oakley Elementary educators, even more. It is with this clarity of hindsight that I offer you this note of thanksgiving.
Thank you for having a classroom that allowed for different abilities. You challenged bright students, coaxed strugglers, and guided distracted ones. You created space in your classroom for all kinds of learners. In so doing, you taught my children and others that though we are unique individuals, we can find common ground that can lead to community.
One way you demonstrated that was through music. You did that all on your own. You secured enough recorders for every student in the class and taught them to play as an ensemble. As they learned to play the instrument, they learned the value of commitment, perseverance, and excellence. (Music teaches so many things!) They also learned that together, they were better. What a valuable lesson to learn! Thank you.
Thank you for encouraging their strengths. I remember you having a little talent show at the end of the year just for your class. You clearly, genuinely wanted to see each child’s performance. In my memory, you are sitting on the edge of your seat, smiling though each number, and applauding the loudest at the end. As I remember it, you pointed out the positives of each performance. You weren’t offering vain praise, but rather you showed authentic interest and gave real compliments. As you did so, you taught your students that each person has gifts that are to be celebrated. Thank you.
As a volunteer in your class, I was so impressed with your superior teaching abilities: effective classroom management, enthusiastic and engaging lessons, and an unparalleled awareness of the needs of your students. Plus you had that unteachable quality: you obviously, unashamedly, truly loved the children entrusted to you. Thank you, Mrs. Sorrells, for loving my children and for loving so many others. You blessed them. You blessed me.
Once I mentioned to you about how awesome I thought you were. You thanked me then, but responded in writing the next day.
“Anything that happens in my classroom that is awesome is purely by the grace of God. God has given me a foundation of trust, love, and joy. I view the job itself as basically impossible. I do as well as I do solely by the grace of God. Each day is full of lots of miracles.
“Twice a week, at two different church services, I hear the following benediction:
‘The world is now too dangerous a place and too beautiful a place for anything but love. May God take your hands and your feet and work through them. May God take your minds and think through them, and may God take your hearts and set them on fire.’
I try to live these words.”
Indeed, your message of love was unmistakable. Thank you. Thank you for taking to heart the benediction you knew so well. You made a beautiful and lasting difference in the lives of my children and so many others. My heart overflows with gratitude.
Dear Oakley Elementary School:
It was a conscious choice for me to surrender the first of my three children to you back in 1999. I thought about charter schools. I looked at city schools that would accept transfers from the county. I considered private schools and even homeschooling. You see Oakley, as an educator myself, I knew the importance of starting formal schooling in the right way. I was unwilling to leave this aspect of parenting to chance. After prayerful consideration and active research, I opted for you, Oakley; and you—by my home address—had chosen me.
What a divine and blessed choice that was: for ten years, you nurtured my family. Thank you for caring for us so completely. I can’t list all the ways you did that, but I want to point out just a few.
First, thank you for keeping music education alive in your school. My children loved their music teacher and looked forward to what they’d learn in her class. But music did not stop—or for that matter even start—in the music room. No, at Oakley, music spread throughout the school. One teacher provided each of her fourth graders with recorders and taught them how to play. Others used music to aid memory or productivity. At Oakley, music was the norm. That made a difference for my children and I thank you.
Thanks also for the art you have displayed on your walls. Murals abound at Oakley Elementary, saying to my children and others, “Be creative! Explore beauty! Express yourself!” Thank you for whispering those encouragements to my children daily. They heard them. I did too.
Thank you, Oakley, for hiring fantastic teachers. My children have found academics to be pretty easy throughout their lives—owing in large part to the fact that they have always had books within reach and have parents and grandparents who value academic success. People told me my kids would lose interest in the classroom. Those people didn’t know Oakley’s educators. My children’s teachers engaged students across a wide range of academic abilities. Despite having 25 students in a class, many of whom needed more instruction and attention than mine, Oakley’s teachers recognized my children’s needs and responded to them. Thank you Oakley. Thank you so much.
Finally, thank you Oakley for your diversity. My son’s first grade class included children of six different nationalities. There were kids at Oakley who were first generation immigrants and those who were third generation Buncombe County landowners. There were kids who lived in government funded housing and those who lived in million-dollar mansions. They were black, brown, and yellow, red and white, but everyone was precious in Oakley’s sight. Thank you Oakley for showing my children what the world looks like. You taught my children from an early age that friendship isn’t dependent upon matching skin or equal resources. They’ve not forgotten that lesson. They never will.
Thank you Oakley for loving us in ways that seemed to come easily for you. You have blessed us beyond measure and this mother’s heart overflows with gratitude.
Mother of Trellace, Baker, & Margaret Lawrimore
PS Trellace will finish her Bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington, DC in 2016 after finishing summa cum laude at Reynolds High School in 2012. Baker is on a full scholarship at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Margaret, an honors student at Reynolds, graduates in May 2016. You did well, Oakley Elementary School!
That's who I'm thanking today. Who would you like to thank? Comment below to let me know!
I've recalled for you here seven of my favorite teachers, in chronological order. (Caveat: I can't pick a favorite from Gardner-Webb Divinity School. For one thing, I still have my Doctorate of Ministry left to do and I ain't crazy. But, I couldn't pick anyway. I love you all!)
1. Ms. Brown, 5th grade. In the 70's, as in every decade, North Carolina tried some stupid stuff in education. In my 3rd and 4th grade years, I was in open classrooms. I don't remember why that was a thing, nor do I really care. I just remember it was loud, distracting, and overwhelming (for me, anyway). In the 5th grade, I got to be in one classroom for the whole day with this one marvelous teacher who loved students and teaching. On what must have been the first day of class, she announced to her class full of mostly white kids, that her name was Mrs. Brown and if we forgot we could just remember that "Mrs. Brown is Brown." Brilliant! She got racism right on out of the way and beat a bunch of 10 year olds to the punchline. She was fabulous.
2. Ms. Highsmith, 6th grade. She's the teacher who said of me, to the class and on my report card, "Aileen has real heart. She sees students in need and cares for them." I didn't know I did that, or at least I thought everyone else did too. She pointed out a giftedness in me that I'd not realized myself. That's a good teacher right there.
3. Ms. Lewis, 7th grade. I was seriously bullied in 7th and 8th grade, but in Ms. Lewis' class, I forgot all about that. Language Arts! Books, language, words. I loved it, loved it, loved it. Plus, she was funny. (I realize now what an amazing gift of comedic timing she must have had for seventh graders to find her humorous!)
4. Ms. Delaney, 9th grade (I think). Mary Delaney, did not play when it came to English grammar. I've always loved grammar, and so I appreciated her zeal. She was also quite quirky, a fact that made her even more loveable. My best friend and I were so crazy about her, that at the end of the year, we took her to our favorite lunch place, our treat. (We had open lunch back then and could leave campus for that blessed hour.) It's to Ms. Delaney's infinite credit that she accepted our invitation, and went out to eat with those two geeky white kids.
5. Ms. Hayes, 10th grade. Ms. Hayes, sock footed, would not have been five feet tall. But at school, in her 3-4 inch heels, she was a giant. She taught history, but mainly she taught joy. I can still bring her laugh to mind, see her vibrant smile. She was an absolute delight. As a 15 feet year old dealing with all kinds of self-esteem issues, I found her energy invigorating. Because of her, school wasn't so bad.
6. Dr. Walter Barge, undergrad. Around 1984, Campbell University hired a new dean of the college of arts and sciences, Dr. Walter Barge. Dr. Barge was one of those deans who loved teaching so much that he straddled the administrator/faculty divide and did both. I had him for my senior seminar. He said of my writing, "You have a gift. Develop it." (Then he proceeded to mark up my papers so thoroughly that it was hard to see any evidence of said giftedness.) He was a man of integrity and honor. God rest his soul.
7. Dr. Diane Neal Kremm, grad school, round one. Dr. Kremm was flat out crazy about Southern history. When she taught, history rushed forward into the present, alive and relevant. I sat in her class enthralled, amazed, and inspired. It was invigorating. In her office, she had a portrait of John Brown. What's not to love?
Oh wait! There's one more. And she's my favorite teacher of all time. I was her first student, and she was my first teacher. She taught me to read in her makeshift classroom in the upstairs hallway. She stood at her blackboard easel wielding pastel colored chalk; I sat in a little red chair and propped an oversized book on my knees for a desk. So, yeah: my sister will always be my favorite teacher of all time. (She started her official career as an educator in 1985 and is teaching still.)
So thanks Dawn, for teaching me to read and, ya know, everything. And thanks to all educators who tirelessly bless the children of this world day after day. You absolutely--no question--make a difference.
“What is a minister?” Zach* asked.
It was Wednesday afternoon and seven-year-old Zach was one of about 12 kids in attendance at Kids for Christ (KFC). This program meets weekly after school and includes a variety of activities including Bible Buddies. The KFC’ers get off the school bus at the church and their parents come for them at 7:00 pm.
That afternoon I was helping Cozette, the Bible Buddies teacher; we were focusing on Isaiah 66:13 and talking about mothers. (It was the Wednesday before Mother’s Day.) Both kids and leaders shared stories and talked about what we had learned from our moms. I showed them a picture of my mother and explained that she taught me a lot about ministry.
“When I was a little girl,” I told the kids, “My mother often cooked twice as much supper as we needed so that we could share a meal with another family. She also visited people, wrote notes, taught Sunday school, and did lots of other things that showed me how to be a minister.”
That’s when Zach’s hand shot up. “What is a minister?” he asked.
“Great question,” I told him. I wanted to answer accurately: the word itself could relate to positions outside a church. “A minister is someone who takes care of people and spends time with them. Like me, I work here at the church and I am the Minister with Youth and Children. So, I spend time with you guys and help take care of you.”
“And I’m a minister too,” Cozette, said. “I visit people in group homes and I help them with things they need.”
“Oh!” Zach said, nodding. “Like a teacher.”
Wow. What a response. See, Zach—a loveable and bright little guy who is eager to learn—is not the quietest fella you will ever meet. My guess is he does his share of squirming, speaking out of turn, and just generally pushing the limits of acceptable classroom behavior. And yet, the description of a minister, made him think of teachers.
Teachers. Teachers who are overworked, underpaid, and up to their lanyards in standardized tests. Teachers who stay afterschool for special events and come in early for conferences with parents or students. Teachers who spend their own time and money because they love what they do and they want to do it well. Teachers who take time to minister to a fidgety little boy who sometimes forgets the rules.
“Yes,” I told Zach. “A minister is like a teacher.”
*Name changed for privacy.
This teacher—I’ll call her Miss P, short for Miss Pedagogy—has been teaching since 1985. She has a master’s degree in her field and has completed independent study with experts of international acclaim. Long ago she lost track of how much money she has spent on her own continuing education. In addition to those costs, Miss P spends an average of $1000 a year on her classroom. Much of that money goes to student needs and resources that enhance learning.*
“I love teaching. I love my students; I even like most of them,” Miss P said, chuckling the way you do when something used to be funny, but isn’t anymore. Her attempt at levity flattened as she continued. “But I can’t do it anymore. I just can’t.”
Those who know the life of teachers could guess possible reasons.
Indeed, these things are frustrating for Miss P, but not frustrating enough to make her leave the career she loves. She talked about how expectations of parents and administrators have changed over the years. In fact, let’s just think for a minute about what we, the consumers of public education, expect from our teachers. We expect them to
Oh. We also expect them to take a bullet for our kids if some maniac comes onto the campus brandishing assault weapons. And do you know what? I am positive that nearly every teacher I know would do just that. Miss P certainly would.
But it’s not these expectations that have caused Miss P to spruce up her resume and scan websites for job openings. Nope. It’s something else.
“The thing is,” she told me, “no one ever gives me the benefit of the doubt anymore. Not the parents, not the administrators, and certainly not the school board. There’s this assumption that I’m going to harm the children in some way; that I am the enemy, not the advocate, of students. It’s exhausting.”
Here's what I think. I think teachers should receive higher pay and better benefits; and I think we ask way too much of our educators. We need to address these things and correct them. Period. And in the meantime, let's start with this: respect. Seriously, let’s just go ahead and treat our teachers like the professionals they are. The average teacher is an enthusiastic expert in her field, not a mediocre bureaucrat manipulating the system of tenure. Despite her dwindling wages, she works long hours and attends school events after work and on weekends and (get this) loves doing it. Extraordinary!
So, can we please stop talking about the occasional incompetent teacher as if she is the norm? Instead, let's give our teachers the benefit of the doubt; let's start saying “Thank You," and “I'd like to help.” Seems to me that's the least we can do for those who daily give their lives—both literally and figuratively—for our children.
*Some of Miss P's money goes to cleaning supplies. At her school, the maintenance staff does little more than trash collection in individual classrooms (budget cuts, you know). Plus, her school is infested with mice. She’s complained for years, for more than a decade actually, about the ubiquitous mouse poo that testifies daily to the pests’ presence. Until she gets an active response, Miss P will try to keep the room as clean as possible in an effort to deter those furry little delinquents. All in a day’s work.
It’s the rare 18 year old who starts college with the same major she has at her graduation. Even rarer is the one who approaches retirement in that very same career. My friend Lisa is just that extraordinary. What is this compelling field you ask? The answer: middle school education! Middle. School. Ed.u.ca.tion. Teaching pubescent 12 and 13 year olds who giggle when someone says “duty” (“She said doody!”) and who pass gas with smug aplomb. That’s what Lisa signed up for nearly 30 years ago.
It’s true. Even when we were in college, Lisa (Allen) Henson couldn’t wait to teach seventh graders. Some could argue (successfully) that she’s crazy. Just flat-out crazy. But I say she’s a hero. Her commitment to education, inspires her colleagues and transforms her students. Well, just listen to this story she told me a while back.
“Honestly, the entire seventh grade faculty talked about him.” Lisa explained. “They said Jackson* constantly disrupted their classes; and that no matter what they did he just did not respond to discipline.”
Apparently, Jackson’s academic record isn’t exactly admirable. He scores in the lowest percentile on standardized tests. It seems he just never really understands much in the classroom. Or at least, he doesn’t understand the things that are measured on state mandated multiple-choice tests.
Lisa continued. “I couldn’t believe they were talking about the Jackson I knew. I never had those problems with him. Never.” So one day Lisa just asked him. “Hey Jackson? Why do you behave for me and not for the other teachers?”
Jackson, as big as a man, loomed above Mrs. Henson. He looked down at her and said, smiling, “Because you expect me to, Mrs. Henson.”
(Thanks to Lisa and to all our other educators. You matter. You are our heroes every single day!)
*Name changed. According to http://www.babycenter.com/top-baby-names-2013, Jackson was the most common name given to boy babies last year. Seemed like a good choice for this fella as well.