Teachers Deserve Thanks, Not Blame

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As our public schools begin another school year, it’s time to stop blaming and criticizing teachers and start thanking and acknowledging them.

Our schools reflect society, and society has undergone a dramatic shift from
previous generations. A typical classroom today consists of many students with
severe behavioral problems, limited knowledge of English usage, emotional and
psychological difficulties, learning disabilities and attention-deficit
disorders. And many suffer from abuse and other adverse home and socioeconomic
conditions.

Unlike previous generations, many parents today send their kids to school unfed,
unprepared and with little or no basic skills nor social skills. In many
neighborhoods, it’s the school building, not the child’s home, that provides a
safe, secure and predictable haven. Despite these societal problems, we need to
focus on the success stories of what’s right with our schools rather than what’s
wrong with our schools.

In my previous work as a motivational speaker and professional development
trainer, I have personally worked with thousands of teachers nationwide. I have
found them to be caring, hardworking, dedicated, industrious and sincerely
committed to the success of their students.

Teachers’ duties have now grown to the added dimensions of counselor, mentor,
coach, resource person, mediator, motivator, enforcer and adviser.

Instead of acknowledging that teaching is a demanding profession, critics will
often focus on the supposedly shortened workday of teachers. Still others claim,
“Yes, teachers are busy, but at least they get a planning period each day to
help get things done.”

In reality, the so-called planning period is really a misnomer. A typical teacher is so involved with the day’s activities that usually there is no time to stop and plan. Those minutes that are supposed to be devoted to planning are often filled with endless amounts of paperwork, meetings, interruptions, schedule changes, extra assigned duties, phone calls, conferences, gathering missed work for absent students, completing forms, submitting required data and on and on. Maybe they call it a planning period, because there’s NO time left for planning…period!

Most teachers leave the building long after the students’ dismissal time and
usually with plenty of paperwork and tests to correct. Evenings are spent
reviewing homework assignments and planning for the next day of teaching.

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate/license,
once teachers begin to work in the classroom, they need to immediately continue
their own education. During summertime, they are constantly updating their
education, earning a graduate degree or two and making sure their teaching
certificates are active and valid.

Too many people have the mistaken notion that anyone can teach. They think that
they could teach because they have seen other people teach. Yet, when looking at
other professions and occupations, these same people understand that they can’t
perform those jobs. They may have briefly seen the cockpit of an airplane, but they don’t assume they can fly it. They may have spent an hour in a courtroom but don’t believe that they can practice law. They certainly don’t think they are able to perform surgery.

Every day, teachers are making a significant difference. At any given moment,
teachers are influencing children in positive and meaningful ways. Many societal
problems exist, such as violence, drugs, broken homes, poverty, economic crises
and a variety of other woes. Teachers struggle with the turmoil of society while
trying to offset the negative influences outside of school. As they roll up
their sleeves and take strides to improve the lives of their students, teachers
are the real heroes.

Today’s teacher is more than a transmitter of knowledge; the demands of the
profession are ever-increasing. Many parents and taxpayers have an expectation
that a school system should be the do-all and be-all in their children’s lives.
Some parents have a notion that they can drop off their child at the schoolhouse
door, and behold, 12 years later, they will be able to pick up a perfect
specimen of a human being — well-rounded, academically proficient, emotionally
sound, physically fit and ready to meet the next phase of life.

But we know that teachers cannot do it alone. A sound, safe and secure home life
is essential. An effort on the parent’s part to prepare the child for school is
vital. And parental involvement that results in a partnership in the child’s
development is necessary. When that doesn’t occur, then it’s easy to scapegoat
the classroom teacher.

As the school year begins, our public schools welcome everyone. The
individual classroom teacher is faced with dozens and dozens of human beings
who come to school in varying degrees of ability, potential, maturity,
motivation levels, and readiness to learn. Students arrive with a tremendous
amount of baggage, with various health and nutrition factors, family
issues, neighborhood influences and differing socioeconomic levels.

In today’s climate of high stakes testing, business leaders and politicians continue to demand better results with data driven assessments and test scores. It is important to realize that the classroom is not a factory floor where uniformity and precise precision can be molded into just one final finished product. Unlike the manufacturing arena, teachers don’t select the raw materials (students). All are welcome as teachers strive to
meet and serve all levels and all kinds of students. Test results will always vary from low to high ranges because schools are dealing with human beings with varying degrees of potential. The school is not an assembly line that can mass-produce exact templates of finished products meeting the same exact predetermined standard.

Instead of bashing our teachers, we should be conveying recognition, accolades,
tributes and positive acknowledgments. Teachers deserve a sincere thank-you for
the tremendous benefits they provide society. And that’s why my all-time
favorite bumper sticker offers a profound and important declaration: “If you can
read this … thank a teacher!”

In our schools today, there are thousands of success stories waiting to be told
and there’s a need to proclaim those successes proudly and boldly. Teachers
should stand tall and be proud of their chosen profession. Critics should not
judge them unfairly. Together, let’s become teacher advocates and show
admiration for the inspiring and important life-changing work they do.

DR. TOM STASZEWSKI, a former middle school teacher, lives in Erie with his wife,
Linda. He recently retired after a 35-year career in higher education
administration. Doctorate from University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of
“Total Teaching: Your Passion Makes it Happen” (tomstasz@neo.rr.com).

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC  Publisher Norberto Santana at nsantana@voiceofoc.org.