When I clicked the button to post “To America from a Teacher” to my blog a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea the response it would generate. The visits to my website exploded from a little over a thousand to ninety-thousand, online magazines requested permission to reprint the letter, and Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading voice combatting corporate education reform, published the letter on her blog. After receiving an email from Dr. Ravitch letting me know the letter had “gone viral,” I called my mother to share the news. She aptly commented, “I think you’ve hit a nerve.”
The nerve, it turns out, was an exposed one, the kind that we dare not touch for fear of pain. Because of this, the responses, both positive and negative, were raw with emotion.
For the most part, people’s responses were supportive. Most recognized the heart of my words and understood the letter was not about unions, pay scale, workload, or the glorification of teachers. The letter was about drawing attention to the voices, especially in the media, encouraging everyone to thank teachers everywhere for what they do. It was about the general public’s remembrance of the qualitative side of teaching that has been sidelined in recent years by the drive to force our profession into hardline quantitative assessment. It was about recognizing an eye-opening moment in public perception that should be part of future discussions concerning the teaching profession. It was about pinpointing a shift in thinking that is paramount to the future of education. It was about remembering that teaching – not necessarily all teachers, but the profession itself – deserves respect, something that must be present in order for education to be what we all desire it to be.
In regard for respect, I thank all of you who responded with respect – no matter the stance of your argument. But more specifically, I am indebted to those of you who took the opportunity to express the difference teachers have made in your lives. Your words are what most teachers live to hear because they tap into the core that drives us.
By far, people who choose to go into education do so because they have a deep-seated desire to make a difference in our world. They know the pay will not be great. They understand that the job will entail long hours and emotional investment. Ease and comfort are not what they seek. They yearn for moments when they experience their lives making a difference in someone else’s life – something that usually happens one person at a time without regard to efficiency models that better serve the mass production of pencils.
So with that said and without claiming any part of the heroism deserved by those who died protecting their students in Newtown, I do believe their sacrifice places us before a briefly opened window where parents and educators recognize and appreciate something that has been overlooked the past few years. We are at a place where we collectively sense that education is much more than the accumulation of high stakes testing, net gains and losses, and perfectly trimmed budgets. It is about community, a place wherein teachers and students share authentic relationships that enable the passing of knowledge from one to another. The relationship that exists between teacher and child is the vehicle through which learning occurs. The teacher’s job is to build that relationship, using all the skill and discernment years of practice have afforded him/her, in order to facilitate the growth of each member of this special community we call school. What we may be finally realizing is that this relationship and the depth of its results cannot be captured on a bubble sheet, nor a balance sheet, any more than our own relationships can be dissected and labelled with accuracy. Furthermore, like most teachers, we may be recognizing there are far more valuable things to appreciate in school than just the cold, hard facts that pass from teacher to student.
For those who might not realize it, it is this elusive part of teaching and learning, this idea of individual investment and the result it produces, that pumps the blood of most teachers. And it is why the insane drive to test our students into oblivion, to measure our worth according to sterile data alone, and the general belief that our job can pretty much be done by anyone who knows how to babysit is so hurtful. Briefly put, for someone who is motivated by making a difference in the world, there is nothing more debilitating than to be told you don’t.
On the other hand, there is nothing more energizing than to hear that you have indeed made a difference in someone’s life, that what you are doing and all the work you put into doing it really does matter. I am not speaking of putting us on pedestals or treating us as gods; I’m simply saying a kind word goes a long way, much farther than you can imagine. So again, to those who took my letter as an opportunity to extend your appreciation to a teacher, personally or online, I sincerely thank you. Your action will have far-reaching effects in making a difference in someone else’s life. Hopefully, many others will follow your lead.