The school year is finding its groove now, but questions about the financing and implementation of education remain. It is presumptuous of me to assume that I have any wisdom to share with you, professionals in the field. However, since I am a writer and, as a breed, we are a group of individuals who believe we have valid, important things to communicate to the world, here it comes at you, anyway.
We run the gamut of personalities over here in my household: from the independent, happily disorganized one to the rigid, anxious one to the carefree, enthusiastic one to the Great Entertainer/nudgy one. I marvel that in one environment two parents have produced four diverse, different people. At any moment in Baby #1’s room, an avalanche of papers, duct tape rolls, colored pencils, stuffed animals, and tiny loom rubber bands can cascade across your path, leaving you trapped unless you have your cell phone to call for help. Baby #2 can be found counting and sorting trading cards by character’s ability, then by color, then by number, all in between shooting hockey pucks. Baby #3 is in the music room, plucking away at the piano keys in his underwear while finding lyrical inspiration from a stack of lego blocks. Baby #4 is pulling apart said stack of blocks, and then taking a swipe at the trading cards, and dumping a bin of candy wrappers in Baby #1’s room for the grand finale. As you can see, each of them has a different interest.
I don’t envy your job, even though I admire it. An afternoon with the four personalities above is hard work, so I cannot fathom what a room of 22 different young minds is like to manage for the length of a school day. Furthermore, my kids carry the baggage of my breast cancer and BRCA2 mutation around their necks. Some days, it helps motivate them to rise above what they think they can’t endure. Other days it causes waves of anxiety to lap at them until they cry out of frustration. And on the hardest days, it is tough to pull them away from their own imaginations, where they are in control of their homemade universe, and that alternate reality is a source of comfort to them.
My children aren’t the only ones carrying baggage. Each child in your classroom brings with him/her the joys and stresses of the family life they leave behind when they enter the school building. But they don’t really leave anything behind, do they? The excitement/dread of a new sibling, the inevitable stumblings of parents, the rigors of weekly extra-curricular activities…all of these things stay with a child when he/she transitions into student-mode every morning.
I don’t know how you do it, day in and day out. I love my children yet I have moments when I need to excuse myself from a room and hide in the bathroom for a few minutes to think. Sometimes I need a break to stare into a mirror, working on my facial expression until it isn’t betraying my impatience. Sometimes I duck into a closet and cover my mouth with a pillow so I can scream. If I occasionally feel this way, and I brought these little people into the world, how do you stay professional and keep your cool?
Your words can inspire a disorganized student to get a study system in place. Your smile can assure the anxious child and anchor him in the present moment. Your encouragement can allow a creative child the freedom to be innovative. Your laughter at the right time can establish a connection between you and an attention-seeker desperate for approval. Your example can inspire a parent to write a blog post, to say thank you for being everything and more to your students. It takes compassion and commitment to be a teacher, and it is more of a vocation than a career.
How can some people claim that God is not present in our schools? After two years of hardship for my family and after observing friends and family members who have been teaching for years, I’m left to wonder:
- What about the teacher that creates lesson plans to bridge cultural differences in the community?
- How about the teacher who collects used books for her students to borrow, so that they will have at least one book to read in their homes?
- And then there are the teachers who safely walk a group of students home from school through a troubled neighborhood.
- There is the teacher that contacts an organization like Mitzvah Circle Foundation to provide snacks for his hungry students.
- What about the teacher that observes a student’s wavering confidence and says the right words to build up self-esteem?
- The teacher that invests her time and energy to bringing innovation to her school, through programs like Maker Mondays and The Global Cardboard Challenge?
- Is God with the teacher that acts as mentor to each student in his or her classroom?
- There are teachers who model good citizenship and community service.
- You can’t tell me God isn’t present alongside the teacher that checks in daily with a former student whose mother has breast cancer, or the teachers that pool their resources and cook a meal for that family, or who organize donations to fight all forms of cancer.
I am honored and privileged to spend time as a volunteer in the schools my children attend. I see a pattern of dedication and involvement begin with the principals and then disburse throughout the faculty and staff. The strides these professionals make with the student body and with the children as individuals is apparent to me. They inspire me to be a more patient, creative, and supportive parent, even through times when I don’t feel best equipped to be those things.
Teachers, your work is not only important, but necessary. Your students are sponges, absorbing the lessons in academics–and in life–that you are presenting to them.
With all of the talk of teaching to tests, preventing school violence, and budget cuts to funding education, please know we see you. We, the parents of the students you astutely instruct, recognize that the contribution you make to their lives is immeasurable. No test can determine the outcome of your influence or gauge the volume of your worth.