Despite retirement, I still get to work with teachers. And yes, I said ‘get to.’ Because teachers are — unconditionally, uncategorically — the nicest work group I know. FAR nicer than ministers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, salesmen, engineers or even scientists. Really.
The teachers this weekend are from two rural districts in Oklahoma, woefully neglected in a state that is (consistently) in the bottom five states for $$ spent on rural students. They’re used to being ignored. And lately, given the public outcry on education? They keep a low profile.
They also make incredibly difficult decisions daily, often with no time at all. Does John need a reprimand for not doing his homework or a hug for the fights at home? Should I buy Sarah lunch, or go along with her pretending she forgot? How long do I wait for Adam’s parent to pick him up? And note that these decisions can have long-term impact on students, who are only kids, after all.
When I work with teachers, I always feel awed. Some of my teaching colleagues — especially in larger urban schools — have more than 200 kids each semester. While rural teachers usually have smaller classes, they often wear even more ‘hats.’ And they may have, easily, 5 preps: five different classes they have to prepare lessons for, daily. Including objectives, lesson plans, and LOTS of paperwork that has to be filed, under most school policies. It’s a HUGE MOUNTAIN of paperwork!
Teachers know that the paperwork is what the system pays you for. It’s drudge work. The decisions…? Those are the hard part. And trying to interest today’s post-modern, fractionated kids in math, science, grammar, writing. Maps and history and cause & effect. They know that all the education in the world — their own, that of their students — won’t sub for a listening ear. An open heart. Friendship & respect. What they offer our children daily.
If I ever win the lottery, I want to throw a party for all the teachers I know. I want it catered — great food, wine, craft beer, chocolate, LOTS of desserts. I want to put a small bouquet of flowers at the seat of every teacher invited. Because so very seldom do we thank teachers.
I sincerely doubt if I win the lottery. So what I do, each time I get to work with teachers — get to listen to their incredible stories, get to share even a fragment of their busy lives — is try to let them know I’ve learned. What they have taught me. So I’m listening. And behind that listening is enormous awe. And love. Because while it’s not enough, it’s a start. So teachers I know (and don’t), here it is. I’m giving it back, as I can. An ear. A heart. And a thank-you.