Aiming To Educate

I am not a teacher.

However, my mother is a veteran educator, having taught for 41 years in various lower elementary grades. She’s continued to substitute since her retirement nearly 20 years ago because she relishes helping children and adults learn, and she simply loves being in schools.

My earliest memories carry vivid images of her readying herself for school, week in and week out. But her work rarely ended with the closing bell; most days, she continued working, preparing for the next morning, for an hour or more, and many evenings of my grade school years were spent accompanying her on return trips to her classroom after dinner. I helped her clean desks and chalkboards, arrange books, cut figures, letters or numbers out of construction paper, or hang decorative educational items on the ever-rotating bulletin boards.

She often urged me, “You should be a teacher.” But not even the enticement of summers off (though she typically taught summer school, too, so those months were not entirely free) and workdays that supposedly ended around 3 p.m. were enough for me; I knew the reality.

“Teachers have to work too hard,” I complained. Even as 10-year-old, I was fully aware of the other burdens teachers carried; bladder infections due to lack of opportunity for regular bathroom breaks, extra hours given to faculty or committee meetings, nighttime calls from worried or complaining parents, and the nonstop “Hi, teacher,” encountered wherever we were in the community. Teachers may not always consider the latter a burden, but as a teacher’s daughter, I craved her constant attention on ME when we were together and was childishly resentful of the frequent interruptions from her admiring current or former students.

After the tragic mass shooting of Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., the calls for teachers to bear arms or be willing to give up their own lives for their students have baffled me. To the best of my knowledge, my mother has never touched a gun, and I can’t imagine her–or young teachers-in-training like my daughter’s peers Anna, Ben and Paige–ever wanting to be responsible for a firearm.

And why, it occurs to me, should my mother have had to sacrifice her life for someone else’s children, even if she were willing to do so? Wouldn’t that have left me without a mother? Don’t teachers’ children need them, too?

It’s not reasonable to ask our nation’s teachers to pay the ultimate price when we refuse to offer salaries commensurate with the enormous responsibility they already bear: Educating and training youth to become tomorrow’s workforce, leaders and parents themselves.

Here’s what teachers really need: Adequate classroom supplies to eliminate dipping into their own wallets to make up the difference; enough school psychologists, counselors and social workers so they can refer and get help for troubled children from trained professionals while they focus on executing their lesson plans; healthy food in cafeterias to fuel hungry little bodies so minds can focus and learn; reasonably sized classes; readily accessible bathrooms.

Any current or retired teacher could edit that list.  Add or subtract as you please; I doubt “guns in the classroom” would make the cut.

Maybe some people become teachers because of “summers off” or “shorter work days,” but my bet is that most teachers simply enjoy working with children of whatever age and wish to contribute to the educational process.

Would we ask welders, physical therapists, hair stylists or librarians to lay down their lives for people with whom they work? No, we just expect them to do their jobs. If you train and apply to become a CIA, FBI or Secret Service agent, join the military or work as a security guard, fire fighter, sheriff’s deputy or police officer, you assume a certain level of risk that applies directly and perhaps uniquely to your profession. But you enter such positions knowing what those risks are, and realizing your life could be on the line at any moment.

Is it really fair to add a new requirement to the lengthy laundry list of expectations we already hold out for teachers? Imagine the job description: “Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in education, state teacher’s license, willingness to shoot a gun or throw one’s body in front of bullets at a moment’s notice to save one’s students.”

Ready, aim, educate.



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