This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, so it seems like a good time to put into words a post I have been writing in my head for weeks.
The state of our schools is on the minds of parents across the country. We hear about oppressive testing regimens, disinterested teachers, the much-maligned common core. We hear far more complaints and criticism than gratitude and praise. More than that, we hear about a system that is broken, in which excellence is the exception to the rule.
On paper, our local school does not look promising. Our Great Schools rating has dropped from an eight to a four. Sixty percent of our students receive free or reduced price lunches – the highest percentage in our (wealthy) county. We have a significant population of parents whose first language is not English, so many of our students enter Kindergarten unable to understand their teachers.
If you look at just the numbers, ours is a school that some people would choose to avoid.
Some people would, but thankfully, we didn’t. Because numbers and metrics and the problems so many people like to discuss don’t tell the whole story.
For me, the story begins with our teachers.
When my daughter started Kindergarten last year, I was worried. She was diagnosed with Asperger’s when she was three. Since then, different doctors have agreed and disagreed with that diagnosis, but on one thing there is a clear consensus: she has some quirks. School, with its many transitions and social challenges had the potential of being really tough for her. Full-day Kindergarten looked, to me, like a minefield.
It wasn’t. My daughter’s teacher seemed to have an intuitive understanding of exactly what she needed to thrive. She made their daily routine clear and guided my daughter through transitions. She recognized the triggers that made my daughter especially anxious, and she made sure to work around them.
And she did all that while dealing with a class of 17 other children, who were all over the developmental spectrum. Some were struggling with the basics of reading, others were reading chapter books. Some came to school barely understanding English. Some had never been in a school environment, and several struggled with the restrictions of being in a classroom all day. Her special understanding of my daughter wasn’t even special – because she had the same commitment to meeting the unique needs of each and every other student in her classroom.
And this teacher, as good as she is, is not an anomaly.
Back in December I had a meeting at our school to talk about my daughter’s handwriting, which was terrible.
Because her fine motor skill development was concerned, the meeting included her first grade teacher, the lead special education teacher, the school psychologist, an occupational therapist, and her principal.
I began the conversation discussing some of my daughter’s history, expecting to have to explain her quirks and how they affect her in the classroom. But I didn’t have to, because her teacher had such insight into her personality, her anxieties, and the way she learns that she was able to contribute more to the conversation than I was.
The special education teacher picked right up on what her teacher was saying, and put together a plan that was not only tailored exactly to my daughter’s needs, but which was creative and empowering.
Her principal looked over her handwriting samples, and understood immediately what our concerns were, adding in his own interpretations and recommendations.
Everyone in that room cared. They cared about my daughter as a person, not just as a student. They liked her. They wanted her to succeed in becoming her best self. It’s a gift beyond value — beyond any kind of measurement — to have people like these in your child’s life.
Our teachers have an incredibly difficult job, especially at the elementary level. They aren’t just imparting knowledge. They are teaching our kids the basic skills that form the foundation of all the learning they will do in the future. And they are doing so for a classroom full of children with vastly different learning styles, family backgrounds, social statuses, and personalities.
My family is fortunate to be part of an exceptionally good school district and to be assigned to a school with excellent teachers and a strong community. I know how vastly unequal school districts across the nation are. I know that we are privileged.
But the story of our education system starts with our teachers. And if we want that system to be great we need give our teachers the support, the gratitude, and the respect they deserve.
So to all the teachers in my life: Thank You.