I can remember growing up and feeling so alone, even when I was surrounded by a huge family. No, it wasn’t early onset depression or anything like that. It was more like being around people who didn’t get excited about the same things that I did. I was interested in many things, from fishing to football to music and especially learning. I was addicted to learning. While many of my brothers and sisters complained about the summer coming to an end and school starting up again, I honestly couldn’t relate. I was more excited about school than your average child, and I don’t place any fault on them for our differences, of course. We had our reasons, and we were kids – and that is enough. For me personally, I I can’t think of a period in my school age life where I hated school, or even had a hint of dislike for it.
I recognized my own eagerness early on. School filled my cup, floated my boat, and rocked my world! School, every single year I attended and without any exception, satisfied my curiosity and always left me wanting more. Like a kid in a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, there were no boundaries and the possibilities were endless!
I loved everything about it, not the least of which were my friends, my teachers, my coaches, custodian’s, office personnel, etc… School was also my refuge when things weren’t going so well in my life. It was my savior in so many ways because I was able to connect to people who were eager and curious just like I was, and also people who were eager to provide me that opportunity! I simply couldn’t get enough.
So I guess it makes sense that I became a teacher and spent so many years of my life wholeheartedly dedicated to that profession. I had and still have such deep gratitude for my own education. I will always be a teacher first – and everything else second. That’s the way I was built and the side of me that I have nurtured more than any other.
In the area I live in our country, the new school year starts tomorrow for most students. As a teacher, I anticipated the start of a new school year in many of the same ways I did as a student! I knew that walking through those doors was an army of kids from many different backgrounds. I knew that many of them weren’t or would never be as excited about school as I was! I knew that every kid, no matter what their age or grade, came with their own background and a story that was uniquely their own. I embraced and welcomed the obligation and responsibility to find out every single student’s story as best I could, knowing that was the key that opened the door that would allow me to teach them in the most effective way possible.
I also knew that that expectation was darn near impossible to accomplish! And while I look back and reflect on so many of the students and families that little ol’ me had the opportunity to touch and make a difference for, I know that there were many that I did not. I knew, too, that I was part of an army of educators, support staff, and a community as well. And I believed and I still believe very strongly that reaching kids requires a massive collective effort. Not long after I began teaching, I also learned that just because I couldn’t connect with a student, I was not absolved of my responsibility to find a colleague who could. We all knew that. We were as much a part of a team as any team has ever been – at any level. We also knew and respected that our profession dealt with a “product,” “service,” or “commodity” that was hands down greater than any other – kids.
We also knew that we were, in many ways, going to battle the unfair and unjust criticisms and accusations of frustrated, stressed, and angry parents and students at any given time. We also knew that we were all being used as pawns by many of our politicians who would have done us all much better if they were a student in our classrooms as opposed to being government officials. Thankfully, that’s not something I think most teachers think about on a daily basis. They are far too busy for that.
Teachers are busy educating our kids! They are busy getting to know them and providing them with the opportunities that many of us may have never had! They’re busy hugging our kids when they need one, cleaning up vomit of sick children, purchasing supplies from their own pockets, creating curriculum and strategies to help our kids have the best possible chance of learning, arbitrating conflict between both students and staff with passionate adherence to the one main purpose all teachers are charged with: to teach our kids far beyond what any subject matter would entail. The “beyond” part is bonus, but it also comes with the package. Teachers are busy showing how to get along and to be good people in this world, and prepare them for anything that their personal paths will lead them through.
So…. THANK YOU to all of my teachers who made school my favorite place to be in the whole world when I was a child. Thank you for caring about me as a person as well as a student. Thank you to my coaches who knew long before I did that the things they were teaching me gave me life skills that went far beyond just practicing and playing a game. Thank you to the office staff and the custodians I had friendships with, even when I was “just a kid.” Thanks for cleaning up my messes and forgiving my mistakes and giving me second chances, and third, fourth, and fifth chances! Thanks to all of my friends, who journeyed through that part of life with me. It was as much what we had in common as what we didn’t have in common that allowed us to see life through someone’s eyes other than our own.
To the students and teachers who have or are about to embark on a new school year, whether you are in America or anywhere in our world: thank you for taking on the challenge of educating our kids in what seems like sometimes a very broken world. And thank you for doing so much for such an incomprehensible less than fair monetary reward. Thank you for often putting your own family on hold so you could teach ours.
To all parents who might be reading this, I know many of you think that our schools aren’t perfect. And I can tell you that you are absolutely right. But I will also tell you that the journey to creating a perfect school is only partially paved through the buildings that your children are going to spend the majority of the rest of this year in. And the success of your son or daughter’s school experience this year has as much to do with you and your family as anything else. I urge you to get involved, to be present when your students are at home with you, to show your support for your schools by being a part of a community that is proud that your child or children are part of an elite group, if only by the fact that they get to attend school.
In our world right now, we have over 350 million school-age children who will not go to school this year. They did not go to school last year. In many cases, a large majority of them will never attend school…. ever. Every day, and in every way, remind yourself as a parent or grandma or grandpa, or guardian of any child for any reason that the students who are privileged enough to get an education are very lucky – very lucky indeed. That “privilege” should never be taken for granted, nor should that HUMAN RIGHT ever be denied, compromised, or undervalued or mistakenly prioritized.
To all of my friend in education – GO GET EM’! We need you now more than ever before.
With gratitude and appreciation,