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Leave No Teacher Behind

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When I was a kid, America made the best cars, the most steel, the finest electronic equipment in the world. We made the best clothes and were the ultimate consumer society. We were the source and consumption of everything "best" and exported it as well.

No longer.

There's no magic wand to wave over our country, "home of the brave and land of the free." It's still a magnet as the melting pot of people running from other societies. The streets are not paved with gold. Employment is not easy to find. Competition is not from each other but from the rest of the world, which excels in a variety of areas.

Politicians speak of increasing the quality of the level of education and emphasize S.A.T. scores and no one wants to "leave a child behind."

Seems more appropriate to say: "leave no teacher behind."

Before the children can give us a new future/a new America in a contemporary globally competitive world, we have to have quality teachers.

That means teachers who are appreciated, held in high esteem. That means parents who understand that they are entrusting their children to teachers, not as babysitters, not as day-care centers, not to get them into colleges, but to actually educate them and prepare them for life, equipped to navigate life's currents with dexterity and succeed.

Unless our teachers are the best of the best, our kids cannot be the best of the best.

Except for armaments, our greatest exports are the intellect and entrepreneurial spirits of remarkable individuals who are today's successors to Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Ford, Edison -- every one of them risk takers, every one of them filled with imagination, creativity, inventiveness and drive.

What do we export? We export our intellectual property to the rest of the world and we are number one (so far) because of astounding people emerging from our society like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the Google guys -- all of whom are builders, risk takers, entrepreneurs, visionaries -- all of whom look to more young people who are active risk-takers with ambition, creativity, fortitude and resilience... "out-of-the-box" thinkers.

Being a nerd does not mean being stupid. Being a geek does not mean that you're going to fail. Yesterday's geeks are the mega moguls of today. Moguls are what the Warner Brothers and Louis B. Mayer and Walt Disney were. They created America's arts: our television, music and filmed entertainment, now delivered through every possible new media and gizmo that the new generation of current moguls have come up with which are disseminated and consumed throughout the world... The world consumes our "content" on TV, computers, smart phones, movie theatres and iPods/iPads.

What does this have to do with teachers?

Well, you've seen in earlier blogs from me that Myrna and I created a Sondheim/Kennedy Center Inspirational Teacher Award. That is not going to make all the teachers of America rich. Hopefully, it will call attention to the impact teachers have on our lives. There are Facebook sections devoted to ex-student fans of teachers, people whose lives have been changed by a single teacher, people who realize that teachers see in them something that their parents don't, that they don't see in themselves, but the teacher encourages, nurtures and inspires.

This past month was the Freddie "G" Weekend. The tear-provoking moment for me was to hear teachers thank me just for asking them what they thought and for listening to what they have to say and for creating programs and materials that address their needs and by being responsive to what they see, touch and feel. Their sensibilities on the pulse of America's youth are more important than anyone sitting in an ivory towered university or on some committee in Washington. Teachers work within the system that America utilizes to educate its young people. Who listens to them... to their observations?

The Gates family devotes a lot of resources to education. Part of it is trial and error. Experimentation is fair. That's valid. Their hearts are in the right place. They have identified a problem and they are addressing it; trying to find the best solutions and approaches.

There are different methodologies of teaching. But almost every one of them requires a single individual with passion, who is not jaded, who is not burned out and who feels respected. Raising the awareness of America and its local communities to the role of the teacher is the Gershon family's little way of stepping forward and up to the plate to tap into our greatest resource, viz.: teachers who have not been beaten down by the system; teachers who have not been made to feel that they are part of a society which pays you more only because you've "lasted longer" through seniority or keeps you employed because your kids score better on tests through cramming and jamming info into their memory banks... (at least just long enough to take the test!) That is not what teaching is all about. That is not learning.

Myrna and I will not live to see the results of what we have initiated. We will leave it as a direction to go and because this is still the land of the free, we're free to do what we want to do without navigating the bureaucracy of school boards or community boards. This is also the home of the brave... and teachers are brave. This land is your land. This land is your kids' land. Let's not leave it scorched land. Renew the promise of America. Keep the melting pot going... The streets were never paved with gold, but with golden opportunities. Mining it through stimulating kids and nurturing them is not a quick fix. Politicians want "quick." The gold is in our kids and the teachers who mentor them.

Leave no teacher behind.