When I finished my Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education at George Peabody College for Teachers, now part of Vanderbilt University, I was given an iris along with my diploma. Campus had been a riot of iris blooms the weeks before graduation. As we gathered on campus in our caps and gowns, we stood by iris beds, freshly dug up. Hundreds of bare roots with a bit of green leaf were separated, waiting for us to take one. It is a beautiful tradition and the iris is an appropriate symbol for teachers.
I can think of so many teachers who have made a difference in my life. It wasn’t always easy for me–and probably not for them. For example, there was that time in first grade when I couldn’t remember whether Frances was spelled F-R- A- N- C- E- S or F-A-R-N-C-E-S. Mrs. Mars was not pleased. She had a way of pulling your hair at the base of your neck when she was displeased. But she was the one who taught me how to make the numbers 1-10 walking over a rainbow bridge. How could I not forgive her?
Mrs. Mars was the first of many teachers in my school experience. There were also teachers in Sunday School, in my family, and in the community–the caring adults who helped me along the way. Perhaps that is why Lawrence Cremin talked about the ecology of schools as institutions that educate. Wherever they are–in or out of school–THANK YOU TEACHERS! A purple iris to you!
This is National Appreciation Week. May 8, 2018 is National Teacher Day. A day doesn’t quite do it. Nor can a week. We owe teachers so much more, not only for what they have done for us, but for what they do for our children every day. Days in school are only a piece of what they do for students. Teachers spends countless hours outside the classroom collecting information and artifacts, thinking through ideas, wondering “What if…” They dig in their pockets to buy supplies that fill in the gaps when resources get low, often when their own resources are running low!
I have had the privilege of working with teachers in several countries in the world. How remarkably alike they are. They may dress differently. Classrooms are more or less well equipped than those in the US. But how alike they are in their desire to share a subject they have fallen in love with, help young people along in the world, and make the world a better place.
Like the rest of us, teachers have their days. Not every teacher and every child are a good match. Sometimes the chemistry just doesn’t work. Teachers can get burned out. The day to day grind can wear them down. And seriously, you don’t know what tired is until you’ve spent a day in the classroom with six-year-olds or eleven-year-olds, or sixteen-year-olds.
A teacher’s best moments usually go unrecognized and often, unappreciated. They take the brunt of displaced anger that parents and community members feel when the political system doesn’t seem to be working for them—it isn’t so easy tell off the governor, but one can march over to the school.
Everybody is an expert on teaching. I remember going for a haircut once and the stylist spent the entire time telling me the best way to teach reading. He’d been to school. Gosh. He isn’t the only one telling teachers what to do. The profession is becoming so over-regulated that I wonder how imaginative, dedicated, and talented teachers can stick to the job.
The number of teachers who are ill suited to teaching is so infinitesimally small that we should never be guilty of painting all teachers with their brush. If we are going to paint, let’s paint with another brush. Let’s paint on the sky in rainbow colors: THANK YOU TEACHERS. May our gratitude be lived out in our interactions with you as you guide our youth, in the policies that we enact to undergird your work, and in the budgets we pass to provide resources for you to keep on keeping on.