If you can read this: thank a teacher

The phrase, “If you can read this thank a teacher” will doubtless be found this week all across social media and in various memes. It is catchy, succinct and impactful; but it only scratches the surface.
As a chatty, curious and sometimes painfully…assertive kid I am sure I wasn’t the easiest to have in class. However, when I look back over my education I am overwhelmed by the number of individuals that didn’t simply convey information and leave it at that. From Mrs. King who engaged my young mind in ways that weren’t always conventional to Mr. Muth who let me read ahead in class to my high school ag teacher Mr. McConnell who challenged me to expand my perception and make sure if I was stating an opinion there was fact and not just ego behind it. I truly and genuinely would not be the person I am today without those educators who have had tremendous influence (positive and, at times negative) on my life.
Today, I have chosen to homeschool my children though not because I don’t think our school system is a good one. I believe in education of choice and that this might look different for various families and every family should have the choice to figure out what works best for their learners and lifestyles. That being said, when I look at the educational system today and the educators and para-educators that are the “boots on the ground” I can’t help but be saddened and frustrated on their behalf.
I consider myself a partner and advocate for our school district. No, this doesn’t mean I always agree with decisions made at the board or administration level or that I see eye to eye with every single teacher. What it means is that we all agree that children are the most precious group of people out there and that we all work together to ensure that they are safe, loved and have the best opportunity to grow their little minds and bodies in a positive environment. And while I know that our district in Niobrara county (and countless others) agree with this statement, it saddens me to see that, unfortunately, at the federal level, it seems to be all about test scores and money. That the educational system is broken and I’m not sure what it takes to fix it.
When I talk with teachers they are disheartened and overwhelmed. They have gone to school, some of them for six to eight years and also take on continuing professional development only to be told what, where and how to teach their students.
In an age of “me too” and more political/cultural awareness of minorities and marginalized people that ever before, our educational systems are being more standardized and teacher’s “hands tied” more than ever. They no longer have control over their own classroom rules for behavior (apparently it’s fine for students to cuss out a teacher if they are “having a tough time” or are “triggered”) nor are they allowed to teach concepts from a purely objective perspective, i.e. the biography of a controversial figure is simply a biography, not a political endorsement.
More and more of their time and energy is spent on ensuring our students will test well, because funding and state and federal licensing is riding on those test scores. Teachers don’t object to measuring their students growth, but when the process of obtaining those measurements are complex, requiring additional training, proctoring and then the results are still difficult to understand or measure for the every day parent leading to district and frustration between parents and teachers, is it really worth the testing?
The intrusion of popular culture into an educational environment has always been an obstacle but now it is subversive and sneaky coming in the form of personal electronic devices (cell phones and tablets) that students are so deeply attached (dare I say addicted) to that they have anxiety if asked to surrender the device for a 55 minute class period leading to confrontation and conflict.
Teachers are expected to meet certain standards with all students but given no ability to set expectations, boundaries and then carry through on discipline or consequences when those expectations are not met. In our cultural attempt to ensure that individual students receive the best education possible, we have created an environment where teachers must perform to a standard and prove that standard with scoring but still give every single student an “exception”.
This seems like an impossible task from where I sit.
I don’t know the answer. I would hope this problem is one that far smarter, more experienced people than me are working on, though I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, the answer lies in the name of these amazing educators. Teach. Should we, just maybe, allow teachers to do what they were trained and hired to do. Teach, model, mold and guide. Perhaps allowing teachers the ability to set boundaries in their classroom and then watch their students flourish within those boundaries. To allow those that are children’s biggest cheerleaders and advocates to push their students in a way that isn’t tied to funding or state and federal standards but rather on what those students will need to be successful human beings and continue their education in whatever direction they choose.
Teachers find joy in the teaching. In the engaging of young minds and they delight in the growth they see in students even if that growth is not immediately obvious on the test scores or in black and white. Teachers are inherently positive individuals who clearly have faith in the future, or why would they bet their career on being able to change it for the better?
So if you can read this, thank a teacher, but don’t limit it to just this week. See teachers and validate them for what they are doing. Support fair and competitive wages and contracts, promote resource development in your district beyond what federal and state funding wants to pay for and if you can, volunteer. Be an assistant coach, a room mother, a field-trip chaperone. Drop off extra snacks and truly see your child’s teacher.