“She would make us greet her each morning with a Gutten Morgen, Frau Sauer! She chastised those who made mistakes while reading aloud and made them wear dunce hats for the rest of the day,” my husband recalled about his grade two teacher. He shared that memory after learning that his old elementary school faces an uncertain future in a now blighted area of Detroit.
Coincidentally, seconds before he told me about Frau Sauer , I had just finished reading a statement about the perspective of many business leaders in the US, in regards to the demise of the American educational system. To these business philanthropists, the system seems to protect teachers who are lazy and incompetent and they seem to propose that if only teachers could be held more accountable via the use of stricter metrics, then all would be well.
So there I am sitting on a beach on a holiday, and the confluence of two ideas had me experiencing extreme feelings: dismay and gratitude, both veiled with an undeniable sense of responsibility.
We have come a long way since the days of having students wear dunce caps. No doubt, as someone who has worked in the education field for almost three decades, the assumption that teachers are to be blamed for all that ails the educational woes in the US, deeply worries me. We certainly cannot continue to generalize and blame teachers for all that is not working in a system that is proving to not be serving its students well for the demands of our present and future world. Tony Wagner makes a strong case as to the real reasons, and I encourage you to read his book, Most Likely to Succeed to get the full flavor of his argument.
It equally pains me to know that there are children whose self images are impacted due to the practices of some professionals who may not be aware of the impact of their actions. I am not naive enough to think that such teachers do not exist. But I would argue that it is the job of a leader to then act responsibly and help those individuals see the light. That to me is one of the most important aspects of school leadership. Are we as leaders engaging in the real act of supporting our teachers’ growth?
But I digress from the real purpose of my writing today. Rather that dwell on what is not working in some schools by hyperfocusing on the perceived misdeeds of teachers, I want to simply stop for a moment to recognize, with deep gratitude, the work of my colleagues here and around the world, who in a daily fashion contribute in extremely meaningful ways to the future; colleagues who have chosen to be teachers, in my opinion, one the most honorable professions that exists.
It is true that a teacher affects eternity, as Henry Adams once wrote. The role and responsibility of a teacher cannot be denied. I am grateful to have worked with a large numbers of colleagues throughout my experiences, both in the US public system and in international schools who embody all that great teaching should include. This longitudinal view on the value of the overwhelming majority of those with whom I have worked and learned, is also supported by my current professional experience.
In my daily, direct and indirect, interactions with teachers at our school I see, hear and feel:
- caring and warmth
- relating to students
- passion driven teaching
- respect for individual differences
- knowledge of individual students’ strengths and focus on how to nudge them to the next level of understanding and achievement
- hard work focused on what matters
- student focused conversations that are productive and respectful
- reflection on practice
- critical skills being modelled and taught explicitly
- an image of the child that is respected, understood and accepted
I would be pressed to believe that the set of experiences I list above are only present in one international school, our school. I choose to believe those can be observed in many schools around the world, public and private. Lazy, incompetent, chastising, demoralizing, are not the attributes I would give to my colleagues, past and present, who joined the profession because they care, because they believe they can make a difference. Not because they seek an easy job or one that does not require a high degree of cognition, hard work and commitment.
And so, I offer my deepest gratitude to the millions of teachers worldwide who give their time, love, energy, passion, knowledge, experience- all while holding on to the ideal that it is worth it – because when we do it well, we do make a difference!
Parents, myself included, have benefitted from your work, wisdom, and caring guidance. Thank you for having chosen such an important role in the life of students.