Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A good teacher is like a candle...

A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others.                                                                ~Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, translated from Turkish


I came across this quote the other day and was struck by the simple truth of the statement. Educators come into the profession burning brightly, full of passion, enthusiasm and energy. They give completely and selflessly of themselves so that children might grow and learn in a creative and engaging environment, Day after day they light the fire of learning, each time giving up a part of themselves, so that a child might gain new insights into the world around them. Is there any more noble profession or purpose in life?

I recently completed my doctorate and I lead a school system. I am proud of these accomplishments and deeply appreciate the heartfelt congratulations received from my family, friends and colleagues. However, the recognition that meant the most upon completion of my doctorate was from a former student of mine who commented “One of the best teachers I've had!” Of all the titles and positions I've held, that is the one that means the most to me: Teacher. It is also the one I miss the most. I became an administrator, not for the money, recognition or authority, but because I came to understand that I could have the maximum impact on the greatest number of students by doing so, while working with teachers to help those students succeed. This was a hard decision and remains so for me. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss being in the classroom on some level.

Today, more than ever before, it is difficult to be a teacher. Teachers suffer a constant and ever increasing barrage of mandates, initiatives and requirements handed down by policy makers in the state and federal governments well removed from the daily realities of life in our schools. Teachers are continually being told that they are failing in their duty of educating our children, that they must be held accountable, and that we must increase test scores to prove progress. We are losing good teachers at an ever increasing rate through burnout from the stressful environment in which we labor. More and more we are failing to attract new, energetic and qualified teachers to the profession. This is a problem. In my mind, those that remain in this field demonstrate their professionalism and dedication on a daily basis by weathering this storm and holding fast to their principles.

This week is teacher appreciation week and you will hear politicians praise the hard work and dedication of our teachers. They will commend their professionalism, devotion and enthusiasm. They will point out teachers who they had as children and young adults that influenced the course of their lives. Then, next week, they will go back to describing the problems of our failing schools and the NECESSARY steps that must be taken NOW to hold teachers and schools accountable for that failure. It is time to appreciate teachers for more than one week out of every year.

In response to your commitment to our kids, I want my teachers to know that I appreciate and am proud of the work you do EVERY day. Your enthusiasm, creativity and dedication to our students inspires me. It is for you that I advocate for change. It is for you that I will speak out, push back, run interference and take whatever steps possible to ensure that you have the resources, freedom and flexibility to do your jobs. So that you can arouse the passion of our youth through exposure to new ideas and prepare them for life. So that you can give of yourself for the good of your students, for that is what it means to be a teacher.

Thank you for all you do.