In a time when talk of education often elicits dispassionate commentary about state and federal government agencies, or contrarily, full-throated displays seen on big city streets – what is often lost in much of the media stir in political discourse, is the fact that teachers and local education professionals still serve as the back bone of our communities. Many of a child’s earliest memories are set in the classroom, under the consistent, caring, and watchful eye of teachers – shaping worlds as our first intellectual giants – slayers of dragons and stewards of possibility.
This week, we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week 2014. Across the internet, on Twitter and Facebook, you will find many individuals taking the time to #ThankATeacher, reminiscing on the important role of particular educators in their lives. For me, that teacher was my 11th grade history teacher Mrs. Glenda Smitherman. She was the first teacher I had who took enough interest in me to talk to me about college. She even went as far as to suggest that I consider law school. What she did not know, was that I was from a neighborhood called “the bottom”.
At that time, I had personally only thought of college within the context of playing one sport or another, most likely basketball. I only thought of the law within the context of childhood friends and acquaintances who had, unfortunately, seen an early introduction to the criminal justice system. Needless to say, I thought that her suggestion was silly, but I never forgot the way she made me feel.
Good teachers do not simply deal with what is. They invite students to consider what can be. I have not spoken with her since my days as a student at Thompson High School, but I have come a long way from “the bottom”. I can now enjoy a reality that was initially only understood by this quiet, unassuming history teacher, who ignored the whirlwind of any distraction and uncertainty I may have felt personally. Despite how I felt about myself, she saw something more in me. And, when I recently received my first notice of acceptance into law school, she was the first person that came to mind.
It is because of the critical role teachers play in the lives of our young people that we, in our various communities, must also remember our role in supporting them. We must elect leaders who value education and elevate policies that sustain teacher support. It is imperative that we show appreciation for the very people who have dedicated their lives to building bridges from promise to opportunity for our children.
I want to use this space today to thank educators, generally, for the invaluable contributions they provide for communities across this country and to express a special sense of gratitude for those giants – those slayers of dragons, who look into the darkness that fills caverns of doubt and insecurity, and walk with our children, holding the lantern that lights the way.
If you would like to participate in Teacher Appreciation Week 2014, the U.S. Department of Education has a #ThankATeacher sign you can download and use to post pictures on the various social networks.
During this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, who would you like to thank?