On Teachers

It’s a good thing I had Gordon Parrington for 10th grade Biology at John Glenn High School. Mr. Parrington was the first teacher I had who said something that, at the time, sounded downright scandalous: it was okay to get a C instead of an A. He reasoned that we we are in school to learn, not perform, and that an earned C (or C- in my case) was better than a fudged A, because it meant you were learning.

It was that mindset — that freedom to learn and not jump through hoops — that carried me through the rest of High School and, by some miracle, into college. Mr. Parrington, Mr. LeBlanc, Miss Hakala (oh, I had a serious crush on her in 6th grade) and Mr. Cramer taught me more than the state mandated curriculum. As it turns out, a good modern novel can be life changing (LeBlanc), music is a delicate balance of blend and beauty (Cramer) and I was a pretty good writer (Hakala).

I’ve been a big fan of public school teachers. Parents typically send their kids to school for pragmatic reasons — to pass the test, win a scholarship, get the job — but teachers do much more than academic gymnastics. They nurture us into the people we are and shall become. Working for pennies on the dollar, picking up side gigs out of financial necessity, and largely criticized more than supported, teachers are the under-appreciated heroes and shapers of culture. Let me put it this way: when Mrs. Solomone wouldn’t let us get away with shoddy answers on our homework, I learned that it’s important (and quicker) to just do it right the first time. Turns out I used the same principle when installing our backyard pool. Sure, it still leans a little bit, but I did the best I could because I knew that, in the end, a poor install would only cost time and energy later on. On that project, I’d give myself a solid C, noting that I learned how to do it better next time.

Teachers are in the front and center of the media frenzy right now. We face a trifecta of anxious parents and guardians, pressurized politics, and the real risk of infection for kids and especially teachers. The last thing we need to do is add to this by demanding to be back in school full time, risks and cautions be dashed. I sometimes detect a bad assumption, namely that teachers don’t want to teach our kids. They do. All my teacher friends are lamenting the probability of teaching to a camera this Fall. It’s not what they signed up for, but they’ll make it work because they truly love their students.

The sudden appearance of school supplies in store aisles usually brings joy to parents and dread to students. As a dad, I love to say “look, boys — it’s just a matter of days until you go back (evil laugh). Who wants a Frozen II™ lunchbox?” This year, the feeling is markedly different. College ruled paper and those giant pink erasers seem oddly out of place. Yes, our kids are going back to school, but not the way it was. Welcome to Public School 2.0, where the screens we try to keep away from our children suddenly become the main portal for their academic future, and “six feet apart” flows better than “1.8288 meters apart.”

Until April, I taught adjunct classes in person at a local institution of Higher Education. My first online course teaching experience was awkward but it worked. After all, it was a Communication course, and giving speeches to your MacBook isn’t the same as standing in front of a group of people. Yes, the academics were solid and students said they grew as communicators. And yes, this batch of students selected the online version long before COVID-19. Nevertheless, I felt like I was teaching via drive-thru window — a big difference between take out and dine in (another ticklish subject in this whole menagerie). Plus, working adults who paid for their education have far greater motivations than, say, my 6th grader.

It’s as if Mavis Beacon has expanded from typing to teaching everything. I’m concerned that Zac’s retention will be the same as mine regarding facts about the Oregon Trail. I don’t know exactly how it works, but dysentery sounds like a bad way to die and an easy way to lose the game. And don’t get me started on the alternative frog-dissection computer program that Miss Bliss paraded as the solution for Nikki in the first season of Saved By The Bell (if you don’t know what I’m taking about, you’re not a child of the 80’s and can freely move on).

The way I see it is this: teachers need a LOT of support right now. Some of us donate Clorox wipes and tissue boxes at the beginning of every school year — a sad situation borough on by rampant underfunding but still better than the teacher paying for this (too) out of pocket. Parents & caregivers, this is our time to step up and support teachers. They’re going to get enough guff as it is. Most of our schools can’t swing a typical year without parental resources. The need has now doubled. Tripled.

Perhaps this will be a time for our society to reevaluate the role that teachers play. Maybe we can figure out a way — now — to show support that will somehow correct the remarkable lack of value that teachers have undergone. Whether we’re in physical classrooms or not (or a mix of modalities), the simple truth is this: we’ve got to be in their corner.

Lest you think this is a pro union/anti administration post, let me acknowledge that every organization has its mix of good and bad apples. It’s the sad fact of a fallen humanity that all people groups have some level of dysfunction and corruption. I’m not taking any side except for the vocation and calling of education, recalling with thankfulness that I am who I am in part because of good teachers.

My son Malachi still speaks highly of Mrs. Prater, his 7th grade English teacher, calling her the best teacher he’s ever had. Gang, that’s highly valuable and cannot be minimized. As it turns out, good teachers are a gift to students and their parents/caregivers. The last thing they need is to be lambasted for being in an impossible situation that none of us yet fully comprehend. This is one of those times where we have to make it work, whatever it takes, and to see each other as partners working toward the same goal: forming young brains while they’re still moldable. Multi-modal learning and self-discipline are going to be the new reality for the foreseeable future. It’s a great opportunity to teach our kids flexibility, adaptability, and the joy of learning — not for the sake of the test or the A, but because it just feels good to discover something new.

I bet we’re all going to discover quite a bit in the coming school year. Who knows what the future holds? At least we’re in this thing together. Let’s live that way. Until then, I’d tell you to go hug a teacher, but an encouraging email will do for now.

About radamdavidson

When I'm not blogging, I'm hanging out with my family, pastoring a church, or listening to vinyl. I think and write about Jesus, music, communication, organizational leadership, family whatnot, and cultural artifacts from the 1980's -- mostly vintage boomboxes. You can read my blog at www.radamdavidson.com, watch [RadCast], a daily 3 minute video devotional, or find me on socials (@radamdavidson). I also help Pastors in their preaching and public speaking (www.CoachMyPreaching.com).
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