Please see the follow-up to this letter at http://lisamyers.org/2012/12/31/a-follow-up-to-dear-america-from-a-teacher/.
It feels strange to hear your voice praising teachers for their selflessness, dedication, and love for their students. We’re listening to what you’re saying, but we must admit that we are listening with tilted head and quizzical eye. Why? Because we’ve become accustomed to hearing a very different voice from you.
For the past few years, you’ve been certain that most of society’s problems stem from our schools, more specifically the teachers in those schools. We are lazy and useless, we are only in it for the money, we only teach for the vacation time, we don’t possess the intelligence to teach anyone much of anything, our demands for a respectable wage are selfish, we don’t teach students respect, we are leeches sucking the blood from State coffers, we don’t even work a full day like everyone else, and the most hurtful one of all - we don’t care about our students. Concerned citizens have even documented these ills in grossly successful movies that take the worst of us and use it to convince the public that teachers are deserving of nothing but disdain.
Yet, in one weekend, with one horrific tragedy, your voice has changed. The general indictment that has been assigned to us has seemingly been lifted. All of the sudden, America is looking to us with respect, admiration, trust, and something that looks a bit like… awe. It’s puzzling, really. We are the same people we were last Friday morning, doing the same job we’ve diligently done since choosing our career.
Of course, we do realize what has happened. Something horrific occurred last Friday, and as a result, America saw the uncensored soul that resides in the vast majority of teachers. There were no special interest groups telling you what teachers are really like, no businessmen or women proffering data-driven solutions that will fix every instructional problem, no politicians pontificating about the grading of teachers based on the value they add to students. No, what you saw was the real thing, teachers who love America’s children so much that they dedicate their all to their welfare.
No, for most of us, our all does not include a sacrificial death, but it does include a sacrificial life. It means working a full day at school then continuing that work at home well into the evening as we grade papers and prepare materials that will lead to authentic learning in the classroom. That’s our surface work. At a deeper level, however, we also do the following:
- notice our students’ hurts as well as joys so we can be sure to validate them with our comments and actions
- communicate with our students in a manner that conveys regard for them, even if regard isn’t shared for us
- advocate for services that will improve the likelihood of students’ success
- volunteer for extra-curricular activities so children will know we care about their whole life, not just what they do in the classroom
- coordinate numerous fund-raisers in order to attain the resources needed to teach students
- spend our own money where fundraisers fall short
In truth, our souls are just about as self-sacrificial as souls come, and it is this part of us that you witnessed last Friday in Rachel Davino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto. Yes, they paid the ultimate price, but we want you to understand that what they did on Friday was a natural outpouring of what they were already practicing: a dedication of their lives to your children. It is generally true that if one is going to die for another, he or she is first willing to live for that person. These women did just that.
It is inevitable that days will grow between last Friday and the present, and thoughts will turn to memory. However, we pray that you will not forget this glimpse into the souls of teachers this tragedy afforded us. Please do not return to lumping us together into a rejection bin after seeing a few examples of teachers who do not belong in our ranks. Realize that you will find no greater advocate for America’s students than in us. Appreciate our efforts, and in so doing, create an atmosphere of respect for what we do. In short, simply treat us with the dignity that you’re displaying today. We might find that many answers lie in that action alone.