In Praise of Teachers

You know that doctor who saved your life? She had a first grade teacher, who encouraged her and shaped her to glean her gifts and use them with appropriate and balanced judgment. Years later, she had a teacher who observed her making incisions and providing emergency care to save lives-yep, yours.
07/30/2015 11:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This time of year never fails to find me energetic. I smell fresh book pages and new shoe leather and taste grape Koolaid in my Care Bear Thermos while I troll the aisles of Target with all of its edgy-sparkly inventory. I recall with clarity the anticipation of reconvening with friends after summer break and the gargantuan pit in my stomach melting only in the face of a group to sit with at lunch.

As parents, you'll send your kids off with packs on backs and sacks in hands to climb the rickety stairs of yellow buses where kids may lurk who never learned basic manners or who resort to threats and fights at the slightest perceived insult.

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School is serious business. You nudge your kid off into a great big world, and they go, sometimes skipping down the halls and sometimes edging with frightened whimpers to their classrooms.

I want to speak about the people who will be greeting your child in those hallways and at those doorways this year. They're your child's teachers, and, despite what you hear on the news or see on TV from time to time about teachers who abuse or mistreat their students, the teachers I know -- and I know a lot of them! -- are the absolutely people you'll want your kids running into down the hall when they're being bullied, feeling scared or about to throw up and need to call home.

Teachers, as a general rule, are salt of the earth individuals. Teaching is the one profession purposely influential in shaping all other professions.

You know that doctor who saved your life? She had a first grade teacher, who encouraged her and shaped her to glean her gifts and use them with appropriate and balanced judgment. Years later, she had a teacher who observed her making incisions and providing emergency care to save lives-yep, yours.

I've worked with and around teachers all my life. My mother, husband, aunts, cousins, friends, and many more I know are educators. This was a chosen profession for each of them, and it is where they find their inherent sense of contribution to humankind.

I've witnessed pregnant teachers physically block children trying to fight each other in the hallways before the bell rings. I've been in the room while administrators delivered unexpected and tragic news to children, or when social services came to school to take children into state custody.

I've sat with teachers as tears streamed down their faces while listening to the stories of students being abused by parents or caregivers, trusting their teachers to be the ones to know what to do.

I've seen teachers cursed at and threatened by students and parents, keeping a calm demeanor, working to problem-solve on the spot, while wrangling classrooms of rowdy kindergarteners to safety.

I have endless examples of how teachers and support staff have calmed your child's fears, wiped their noses, and intervened to protect your child: janitors who can level with boys who are making bad choices and lunchroom ladies who can put their arms around girls who need someone to listen.

I know teachers who work all day with severely disabled and medically fragile children with smiles on their faces and love flowing through their hands, teachers who work with body fluids all day to go home to their own severely disabled and medically fragile children, where the "workday" begins all over again.

Each of these educators takes a serious vow to be there for your child, no matter what your child's level of ability. They believe the best of your child, and, like you, they want the best for your child.

They spend the very little money they earn to buy pencils, paper and other supplies schools can't currently budget. They are being forced to teach to test standards in often substandard conditions and more frequently at the whim of demanding and corrupt higher-ups while fearing they will be held ultimately accountable for test scores that don't fall within the boundaries of "success."

This year, as you send your child into his or her school, make it a point to understand that your child's educators are your allies. They, like you, want your child to succeed and achieve maximum potential. Sure, they'll make mistakes from time to time. Despite my heroically drawn speech here, teachers are humans, too, and, like you, like all of us, there are days when they are just doing the best they can.