A Love Letter to Teachers

03/07/2016 06:36 pm ET Updated Mar 08, 2017

One might suggest that I'm too biased to write a love letter to teachers. True, I'm an educator myself. I taught English at a public high school for three years at the start of my career, but that was 15 years ago. Since then, I've been teaching college students. But this love letter is not for my colleagues in academia, as much as I respect them. No, this tribute is for the K-12 teachers, those in the trenches, as I've come to think of them.

My family relocated this past summer and I left my university position, giving up tenure (gasp!). I have been spending this transition year doing a combination of writing, part time teaching, and author visits at schools. I teach at a university and I also substitute teach at my sons' school, among other public schools in our county. It's this latter experience that has affirmed what I've suspected all along: our teachers are working harder than we give them credit for, and they deserve our support, and appreciation, more than ever.

Substitute teachers do not have papers to grade or standardized tests to worry about, so we have the luxury of time to listen and observe. I've learned a lot about our teachers of late. I've been in schools with limited resources where teachers are doing the best they can with what little they have. They're using their own money to provide their students with the extras, or in some cases, the necessities. They keep a supply of one dollar bills in their desk drawers to give to students who have "forgotten" their lunch money (again). Yet, when I eat lunch with them, I don't hear them complain about the lack of resources or their overcrowded classrooms.

Instead, they discuss their excitement about Read Across America, the successful fundraiser for a student with a heart condition, their joy over their students' accomplishments, both large and small. These teachers have well over 20 children in their classrooms; they have students with not only educational needs but social and emotional needs as well, and they remain enthusiastic, kind, patient, and creative. They are concerned about our children's safety and happiness; they are committed to bullying-prevention efforts; they are aware of the individual needs of each child, and they work diligently to meet them.

With the addition of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, our teachers have more pressure on them than ever. They must prepare our students for these tests, knowing all the while that a standardized test can't measure kindness, resilience, creativity, enthusiasm, intuition, character, motivation, manners, work ethic, self-esteem, courage, compassion, effort, a sense of humor, or a love of learning--qualities that they see, and value, in our children.

What has impressed me about my sons' elementary school is that despite the pressures of Common Core and the challenges of being a large school (1100 students K-5), the teachers go above and beyond to provide their students with educational, social, and community-outreach opportunities. The fourth graders put on an annual Veterans' Day reception which local veterans attend (there's not a dry eye in the house!); the kindergarteners celebrate the 50th day of school by learning about the 1950s and dressing in the style of the decade (there's nothing cuter than 5 year olds in poodle skirts and leather jackets!).

They do a fundraiser for the American Heart Association; they collect stuffed bunnies for a local children's hospital. There's a school dance called the Watkins Wiggle and a fall event called Pumpkin Lighting. We have a Chess Club, a Lego Club, a Jog/Walk Club, and many other such clubs to keep our kids active and engaged outside of school. None of this would be possible without the dedication of the staff.

It would be easy for them to say they don't have time to accomplish all of this, understandable, even, given the standardized tests and the size of the student body, but as far as I can tell, these teachers believe in educating the whole child. They prepare our students for the required tests, of course (and their scores are impressive if you care about such things), but they're ever mindful that there's much more to educating a child; there's much more to our kids than a number on a page.

I recently covered for a teacher so she could attend the out-of-town funeral of a former student. I saw first-hand what such a loss does to a school, how these teachers love our kids. Yes, their job is to teach them, but they come to truly care for them, and when something happens to one of their students, they feel it. The whole school feels it.

I'd like to say "thank you," teachers. Yours is a noble profession, a critical one. Thank you for welcoming our kids into your classrooms--into your lives--day after day, with all their needs and moods and eccentricities and 'tudes. For caring about not just their education, but them. For preparing them not just for the standardized tests of life but for life on the playground and the school bus, the ball field and the stage, the high school classroom and the college classroom, cyberspace and the workplace. I see what you're doing and I appreciate you, as so many of us do.