Saturday, April 6, 2013

Teachers forever follow the Yellow Brick Road

Teachers forever follow the Yellow Brick Road

Although the celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week isn't until May, I didn’t want to wait that long to say, “Thank you,” to all of you still in the teaching trenches. Besides, anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that setting aside a day or week to honor a person or a specific group of people who should be celebrated every day gnaws at my nerves. Those who choose to serve us and who strive to make our world, as well as the whole world, a better place should be feted each and every day.

“Teaching creates all other professions,” (Unknown). A few weeks ago, I found this quotation when I was looking for a new one about teaching to inspire my writing. How true this is! No matter their job or career, most everyone in this country has experienced a minimum of thirteen years of learning. Post high school educations, be they collegiate or technical, add to this total, with some people earning multiple degrees or accreditation over their lifetimes.

Besides the education and training we teachers accrued to snag our jobs, we continually add to our learning to keep current in our fields and to insure our employment. But we can’t know how to do everything. That’s why we rely on the knowledge and skills of others. Oh, how our lives would be more stressful without the air conditioning and heating repairman who saves us from sweltering on a sweaty August day or freezing in a single digit December when our home units shudder to a halt, the chef who creates a sumptuous dinner for us at our favorite restaurant, the mechanic who keeps our cars running, and the doctors and nurses who bring us peace of mind and body when we are ailing. Pro-athletes’ knowledge and understanding of their sport thrill us, musicians evoke our emotions and thespians entertain us.

We trust that police forces will protect us and fire personnel will save our homes from severe damage. We rely on those in the intelligence and counterintelligence fields to keep criminals and terrorism at bay. The military is full of men and women who ensure our country’s safety and keep us strong. Lifeguards prevent us from downing in bodies of water and pilots and air traffic controllers make sure that we don’t fall from the sky. Those in the field of finance safeguard our money and farmers’ and ranchers’ products fill our larders while writers and artists in all fields creative nourish our minds and spirits. The list of those who give our lives substance and value is endless, dependant on our wants and needs. How did all of these people learn their craft? 

 Teachers taught them what they needed to know.

Except for the first five years of my life, I have been surrounded by teachers: Those who educated me, my children and now, my grandchildren. Although I am now retired, I spend every day immersed in the world of teaching.  Throughout all of these years, like everyone else, I learned from most, loved some, disliked a few and survived them all.  My fear of my stern whip-thin second grade teacher with her long blood-red fingernails and perpetually scowling face faded when I encountered the serene warmth of Mrs. Fleming the next year.  And I will never forget the shrill cries of my seventh grade Home Economics teacher to, “Remember Betty Bandbox, girls.  Accessorize! Accessorize!” My closet proves that this is one lesson I took to heart.

The cuttingly blunt criticisms of my junior and senior year English teacher, Miss H. such as, “What have you got against the English language that you torture it so?” scratched in crimson on my various writings are eternally burned into my brain.  This exacting educator is truly the catalyst behind my every writing effort because she spurred me to “Show her,”with each next essay, to never, ever toss aside my pen to criticism, and to believe in my ideas and abilities.

Our parents held educators in high esteem, too. Whether they were adherents of teachers’ classroom rules or not, parents chose not to question their policies and procedures in the presence of their offspring. They waited to express their concerns until they could talk with the teacher privately, just like they wanted teachers to do with their children. I never heard demeaning clichés about my chosen profession until a student told me that his father said he didn't have to listen to me because, “You are just a teacher”. When I showed him the door and suggested that he ask his counselor to change his schedule, he meekly decided that I might not be so bad, and swallowed any more contempt.

Respect formed the foundation of the Yellow Brick Road that connected homes to the schools to the communities. All teachers, good or bad, displayed the qualities of the Straw Man, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard: Brains, a heart, courage and magic-to some degree- as they attempted to motivate their charges of whatever age to join them on the educational journey. 

Today, most people still treasure this bond of respect. A few, though, still feel the need to denigrate the education profession. Why this fall from grace?  Are those critics who are so vocal with their barbs and criticism still smarting from past Wicked Witch of the West  teacher-types?  In all of their years of schooling didn’t they ever have even one teacher who inspired them?  Who instilled in them a love for learning and acquiring knowledge? Who challenged them to think deeper, to try harder and to believe in their ability to succeed?

I will never understand why some people demean those with careers in education. To them, in a Craps game, teaching is a 2, 3 or 12 on the first roll: a losing bet.  This thought sticks in teachers’ and trainers’ throats like a spoonful of frustration soup.  Do these people mean that the hundreds of thousands of educators and trainers in this country suffer from the ability or confidence to tackle any other career? 

If these people so disparage teaching, why, then do they entrust the education of their offspring to those who are, in their minds, so inadequate?  Do they forget that the professional historians, mathematicians, scientists, grammarians, writers, artists, musicians, or athletes who they endow with more esteem all once had teachers, too, who inspired and motivated them to choose careers where they could showcase their talents?

Without educators, we all might as well be living under rocks, grubbing for our food, fending off our enemies in games of Who Has the Biggest Stick, and waiting for some smarter person to discover fire while we die young.

Through my school years on both sides of the desk, whether they were filled with fears, tears and frustration or anticipation, laughter and fulfillment, I always held teachers in awe.  Could I pay forward their love for learning? Would I ever know as much as mine did? Could I find a way to reach even the most recalcitrant student?

During my school days, my peers and I always understood, even if we didn’t always like the journey, that our teachers would lead us down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City.  Our treasure, and theirs, was the light in our eyes when we got it. That is the magic of teaching.

Thank you, my colleagues, today and every day, for creating your magic by so willingly sharing your knowledge, abilities and skills with your students and peers. And kudos for creating joyful, inspiring and safe classrooms for all of your charges, especially for those who might not experience such pleasures in their worlds.

 Until next week,