Sunday, September 7, 2003

'Teachers, don't leave them kids alone'

The desks never change much, do they? You slide in sideways. The metal chair is as hard as a tractor seat, without the comfy springs. And the desktop is shaped like one of those amoeba balloons over Dilbert's head in the funny pages. It's made from Formica - an indestructible space-age compound that looks bulletproof, fireproof and atomic-bomb-proof.

But nothing is kid-proof.

There's always a wise guy in every class who manages to fill the balloon with clever comments, rude pictures, scribbles or initials etched in ballpoint blue, forever engraved into the brains of generations of freshmen, who come along and read something like, "scool stincks.''

Welcome back to "scool.'' For all the billions we spend to change it, in many ways it's just the way we left it years ago.

At Meet the Teacher Night this week, I went to homeroom, picked up my schedule and stared cluelessly at posters of "The Cell'' or math problems that might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics. Just like high school.

When the bell rang, I jumped up like a trained dog and wandered out into the crowded hallways, waving, saying a quick "hi'' on the way to Spanish or Western Civ. Just like high school.

The gym smells the same. The lockers look the same. The P.A. announcements sound the same.

But the teachers were very different.

I used to see teachers the way the POWs at Stalag 17 saw their goose-stepping guards. Boy, was I wrong.

Now I see that teachers are the real heroes of the high school movie. They're not the guards. They're the courageous leaders who show everyone how to break out of the stockade of ignorance.

It's not Stalag 17 or Hogan's Heroes. It's The Great Escape: a handful of brave, dedicated teachers, leading thousands of students to freedom every day.

You can tell by looking around the faculty parking lot that they don't do it for the high income. And they don't do it for the high social esteem society bestows on teachers. In a just world, teachers, cops and nurses would be celebrity role models, and Eminem and Britney Spears would be washing dishes for Bob Evans.

Teachers don't walk unarmed and alone into a classroom of teen-agers and assign 10 pounds of geometry homework for the gratitude.

Most do it because they simply love teaching and live for the moment when they see the spark of an idea light up in a student's eyes.

Each of us, if we have been lucky, has had at least one teacher like that. And we will never forget the ones who took us to the top of the mountain, where we could finally see the layout of the world spread out beneath our feet and suddenly catch a glimpse of our dreams, like a sunrise just over the horizon.

At the school my son attends, several teachers remarked at how happy they are to teach in a place where God is worshiped openly as part of the teaching team.

That seemed obvious to the founders of our nation, and it seems obvious to me today. But somewhere on the long road from there to here, we lost our way.

And that's one more reason why teachers are so important.

There are great teachers in classrooms in every school, public and private. All they ask from parents is some support and a little appreciation.

And if they don't get even that, they will do their best anyway.

I'm glad some things never change.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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