Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dedicated to my teachers

All of whom taught me to think critically.

You might think that's pretty good, that all my teachers did that. But in my estimation, those who didn't were no more than baby-sitters. I was going to say glorified, but that would be a lie.

The thing is, that most of my teachers were amazing people who dedicated themselves to the intellectual lives of others. I have a few who were my favorites;:

  • Rabbi Cooperman,who used to crack our knuckles in his oversized hand
  • Rabbi Joel, whom was "cool," especially when he left to become a reporter for the Jerusalem post
  • "Rabbi" Bob, whom we made an honorary Rabbi--he wasn't even Jewish--because that was what we called the best teachers we had, and whose insistence on our excellence and drive to make us try harder, even when we'd tried our hardest, was always a loving push
  • Mrs. Fields, who barely noticed I was alive, but got me writing again after a bad teacher had ruined it for me, and who taught us all that literacy was a gift that we had the responsibility to share
  • Col. Heileman, who pushed us to be our best, but also taught us to take our work, but never ourselves, seriously
  • Mike, whose last name I don't remember but who was my guidance counselor in Niagara Falls and went out of his way to help me feel cared for in a school I had trouble adjusting to
  • Mr. Kanya, who taught us that we had a voice and the right to use it
  • Rabbi Al, who took care of me when I was living in the hell I knew as the US Naval Academy, and who learned from my failures to get help and used my experiences to help a fellow plebe in a similar situation
  • Dr. Lynn Schuster, who taught me that underestimating myself was a handicap, not a form of humility
  • Dr. Pat Miller, who made sure the standards of excellence met the ability of the student and pushed her or him at an individual as well as collective level, and who always let me learn my way
  • Dr. Donna Sewell, who saw through me when I said I wasn't in school for anything other than a "piece of paper" and who met my boredom with greater challenges, took care of me like a mother, and treats me like a sister--and who doesn't ever give up
  • Julianna Baggott, one of the best writers in the world, whom I can call at the drop of a hat, whose work inspires me, and whose belief in me makes me work harder
  • Dr. Kris Fleckenstein, who took my natural teaching abilities and worked to help me learn to be an excellent teacher, even when I was mad at being challenged.
This blog is already longer than usual, and yet I know I've not mentioned everyone who touched my life, made me a writer, a writing teacher, a seeker of excellence, a willing participant in my students' academic and intellectual lives. I cannot begin to thank them, except by being the best teacher I can. I can only pass the kind of love and dedication these people put into my life with love and dedication.

My policy, as I tell my students at the end of the semester, is based in Desert Culture: By accepting the privilege of participating in their intellectual growth, I have accepted the responsibility for their lives. I will always be available to them. Why? Because my teachers parented me. Because they give me a gift when they put all their effort into a project I designed to help them learn. Because they teach me new things every day. Because when I think of teacher appreciation day I think of my students and my teachers.

But I'd like to finish this thank you card to my teachers with one not-too-happy note:

We have a day dedicated to teacher appreciation because we fail, as a society to truly appreciate what they do. We don't have a doctor appreciation day, or an astronaut appreciation day. Why? For the same reason we don't have White History Month: Because we don't need it. It's built in. We already appreciate the researchers who work on our deadliest diseases. But we don't notice the people who helped those we do appreciate reach the excellence they bring to our society.

In fact, we spend most of our time bashing teachers; we proclaim loudly that tenure (which is really only a system by which teachers can't be fired without cause, because they don't get to live professional lives) is a "job for life." We shove poorly designed tests, many of which measure little more than test-taking ability, down their throats. We then judge them for not teaching creatively, after we've forced them to teach to tests. We wonder why our educational system is failing when the answer is obvious: because we have failed those who carry it on their shoulders.

So it's nice to have a teacher appreciation day, but much like Black History Month, I look forward to the day we no longer need one--because it'll just be history, and because we'll appreciate them by providing a professional life for them. 

On a directly economical note, we'll get the best and brightest going into the profession as soon as we make it attractive to them.

Maybe some day the aphorism "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" will be forgotten. Because the best teachers not only can, but they can at the deepest levels or they wouldn't be able to teach.

Finally, thank you to my teachers. Your hard work and dedication have never passed my notice. I hope someday to be as good at what we do as you are.