Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Time to thank our children's teachers

Kathleen Deyer-Bolduc: Local Voices

Another school year come and gone. And for every child eagerly anticipating summer vacation there is a teacher who has played a starring role in shaping a young mind for the past nine months.

We all know the value of a good teacher. More than a few of us know the life-changing impact of a truly great teacher. Close your eyes and summon them up -those women and men who paced the classrooms of your past. Undoubtedly there will be one or two who loom larger in memory than the others. One or two who kindled your love for learning, uncovered your passion for a certain subject, or coaxed forth the confidence hidden under shyness or self-doubt.

As an anonymous student wrote, "We think of the effective teachers we have had over the years with a sense of recognition, but those who have touched our humanity we remember with a sense of gratitude."

For me, it was Miss Soley, the fourth-grade teacher who told me I could do anything I set my mind to do; and Mr. Moses, the high school English teacher whose enthusiasm for a single poem I'd written made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could call myself a writer.

I love this quote by Plutarch: "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited." A daunting task, igniting minds! Sounds like a job that would pay well in both dollars and respect, doesn't it? And yet we continually place teachers at the bottom of the career ladder. No wonder we are losing teachers at record rates - a full one-third in their first year, and 50 percent within five years. Those who choose other jobs cite low salaries and lack of support, along with student discipline as their reason for leaving the field of education.

I asked a friend of mine who has worked for several years as a classroom aide what it is that keeps the good teachers going. "It's like an addiction," she answered. "The teachers I know can't imagine not being in the schools. Being away from kids would be like cutting off their lifeblood. When you walk into a grocery store and a former student comes up and hugs you - that's what keeps teachers going."

So, what can we do to support the good teachers we have? Get involved in your local PTA. Attend school board meetings. Get informed as to what teachers in your district earn. Call your child's teacher (or your local school if you don't have children, or if your own are grown) and ask, "What can I do to help?" Bring in extra classroom supplies. Volunteer to tutor kids in math, or to come in and read stories on a regular basis. Write a heartfelt thank-you note, or better yet, knock on the classroom door for a face-to-face thank you or a hug.

Yes, summer is almost upon us. Teacher appreciation week has come and gone. But it's never too late to say thank you. You just don't know the difference a simple word or gesture of appreciation may make to a truly great teacher who is contemplating a career move - or to all those children in that teacher's future path; young minds just waiting to be set on fire.


Kathleen Deyer-Bolduc, Greenhills, is the author of "His Name is Joel: Searching for God in a Son's Disability." Deyer-Bolduc is a member of the Enquirer's Local Voices panel, which contributes columns to the opinion pages twice a week.

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