Honor Thy Teacher
Several weeks ago, in my hometown of Arcadia, California, the City Council honored high school teacher Tal Jones who had been selected as the local school district’s 2011 Teacher of the Year. During the presentation, which included a proclamation establishing “Tal Jones Day,” the Mayor (who happens to be my dad) commented that, while the City Council was honoring Tal that day, “We should honor our teachers every day.” What a concept.
I’m not against Teacher of the Year awards. The many accolades I received, and the many contacts I made, since being selected as the 2010 California Teacher of the Year have been extraordinary. I also support periodic events such as “The Day of the Teacher.” I even wrote a blog about the event, encouraging my colleagues to touch bases once again with teachers who made a positive impact on their lives.
Individual honors and special days have their place. But how should we really honor our teachers for their daily commitment to educating our nation’s sons and daughters? Here are some ideas:
1. Say “thank you” once in a while. I know educators get paid, but just compensation for their efforts should be comprised of more than just salary and benefits. I don’t need an apple on my desk each day, but I love receiving an occasional “thanks for hanging in there” from an appreciative student, former student, parent, administrator, or community member.
2. But, speaking of salary and benefits . . .To use the baseball analogy that has appeared on this website from time to time, why are teachers often viewed as the utility players of the education team by those who write the checks? I can think of few, if any, professions that work harder or have a greater impact on our nation’s future. Try benching the teachers for a team of politicians, pundits, and consultants. Not only will they tire before the end of the day, little will be accomplished. In order to attract the best and the brightest to our profession, and retain them, we need to pay our teachers competitive salaries and benefits. Cutting costs in the classroom is not a sustainable strategy. As Billy Beane and Brad Pitt discovered, the “Money Ball” approach (i.e., finding hidden talent on the cheap among those going up or coming down the ladder) may be an interesting concept, but it hasn’t produced consistent excellence on the baseball diamond. And it won’t produce consistent excellence in the classroom either.
3. Get Involved. The future of a strong and vibrant democracy relies on a well-educated populace. The Founders knew that, and we know that. A rich educational experience begins with the teacher in the classroom. But, with dwindling resources, the community must play an even more important role in the process. We need to see more community members step up to the plate (alas, another baseball analogy). Their expertise garnered over a lifetime and their ability to act as meaningful role models and mentors cannot be over-emphasized. Instead of sitting in the dugout, they need to get involved by mentoring a student after school, providing an internship opportunity, coaching an academic or athletic team, visiting a campus to speak with students, and participating in any number of other activities that will help students deepen their understanding of diverse topics and fields. The negative influences confronting our students already have their advocates in society. We need to hear from members of our communities who are willing to be advocates for the positive influences. Don’t know how to get started? Call your local school and volunteer to help.
4. Adjust Your Value System. We need an honest commitment from our local, state, and national government that education is worth financing. Our job as educators is hard enough. It becomes that much harder when you add constant budget cuts, pink slips, and criticism. Our society must be willing to invest financially in our education system and our students. We cannot thrive as a decent society if we continue to spend more money on prisons than we do on education.
5. Finally, I Need a Grader. Can someone help me review over 120 essays that my students submit on a weekly or bi-weekly basis? OK, maybe this isn’t the panacea for all our ills, but it would sure be a nice way to honor at least this teacher.