In the first school I taught in, every single teacher I collaborated with and worked alongside had an impact on me. I would observe their classes or talk to their students and was often left in wonder by their skill and brilliance. Their passion motivated me, their skill taught me, and their endurance for the difficult work of teaching inspired me to become a better teacher.
I was convinced I was surrounded by extra-ordinary teachers, a rare and talented group of people.
And of course they were extraordinary, but then I moved to a different school and began my work with a different teaching staff and was equally blown away by the talented and creative people I got to work with. Their work was centered around a single purpose: help their students achieve success. And everything these teachers did worked towards that purpose, and I learned so much about what it means to lead a classroom.
Because of their commitment, creativity, and work ethic, surely this must be the greatest group of teachers in the world.
In the past few months, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to get to present to and meet with teachers from Los Angeles, to South Carolina, to Nashville, Indiana, to Michigan- and every time I go home and tell my wife, “This was probably the greatest group of teachers I’ve ever been around.”
And I really do mean it each time. I say this because when I travel to schools and conferences and get to be around teachers, I hear stories about how they entered the lives of their students and helped them grow and transform. I get introduced to new ideas and practices that I’ve never seen before that I know will change the way I teach. The teachers I meet don’t shy away from innovation and growth; they embrace it and are eager to help shift the education paradigm. However, these teachers are also quick to point out that new ideas and innovations cannot replace building relationships and the timeless, universal practices of being a teacher. Each time, I meet teachers who work 2-3 side jobs to make ends meet (which is repulsive that they have to), but they do it anyway because of their calling to be in the classroom. These teachers are having their classes enter their communities to make real impact and change. I meet teacher after teacher who loves the work they do and cannot imagine doing anything else.
Which all brings me to this conclusion: there are a lot of great teachers out there.
It’s true, our schools contain many creative, hardworking, skilled professionals who are doing amazing work. From the school I visited next to a cornfield in Iowa to the school next to a highway in Detroit, Michigan, there are teachers who are doing incredible work to change the lives of their students, and as a byproduct, bettering our society.
And this brings me immense hope. In our world that seems to be so divided and splintered, where the future can seem a bit bleak, there are professionals dedicating their lives to invest in young people to ensure they become knowledgeable, skilled, empathetic, and confident citizens. My hope is that this society can do a better job of realizing the kind of professionals that are working in our schools. I hope politicians and cabinet members can wake up to the brilliance that is happening in schools and direct the resources and training to make sure these professionals are supported, funded, and multiplied.
I think this support starts by requiring any type of decision-maker in our society to regularly visit schools. They need to meet these teachers I get to meet. They need to see what over-crowded classrooms look like. They need to meet Anne, the teacher I met in South Carolina this past week who quit her job as a marketing executive so that she could teach ESL students. They need to meet Sheri, who could have retired years ago, but 40 years in the classroom was just not enough to satisfy her love of teaching students how to read and write. Legislators should talk to my former student Sarah and hear how she is the first person in her family to ever graduate high school, and hear how she credits this to her teachers.
These decision-makers need see what every teacher already knows, that the work of a teacher is important. And difficult. And frustrating. And time consuming. And skilled. And rewarding.
Then they should act accordingly.