In addition to my family, some of the people who made the most extraordinary impact on my life and what I have been able to achieve were the teachers I had as a child. My work ethic, desire to achieve, the profession I chose, and my confidence can be attributed in large part to the positive and lasting impression those teachers made on me.
I grew up at a time and in a community where teachers were respected, even revered. The profession attracted some of the best and brightest in my community. My parents respected my teachers and trusted them to provide me with an education that would improve my life and help me be the best I could be. My parents instilled in me a respect for my teachers that equaled my respect for them. They believed that education requires a partnership between parents and teachers.
Too often today teachers are viewed not as partners but as subordinates. But if we expect our bright young people to view teaching as a wonderful, attractive profession, the relationship between parents and teachers must improve. Teachers must feel safe and not be intimidated or undermined by meddling, unappreciative or disrespectful parents. There should be contracts and training that set expectations for parents on providing proper support and involvement, and showing appropriate respect for teachers.
Teachers need clear, meaningful measures of success that determine how well children are performing, not only as a group but also on the basis of individual ability. Many state standardized tests seem to push teachers into teaching all their students to a minimum common denominator rather than encouraging the best performance out of each individual student.
The profession has to be financially attractive, certainly, but more importantly, teachers must be provided with the tools to be successful. Administrative assistance, smaller classes, adequate budgets—these improvements would help create a more inspiring and supportive environment for teachers.
Universities and colleges should include in their curriculum courses that prepare teachers to be the person who turns on the light, awakens the joy, and sparks creative expression within all children—the teacher who ignites a passion for learning.
A good friend of mine, an excellent teacher, expressed it this way: “If the children haven’t learned, I haven’t taught well. I will teach and re-teach until the students can tell it, show it, and apply it.” Those are the teachers who change lives.