The awards that were given were a revelation to me of so many dedicated people in Harlan County who have made a difference for all of us. I am sure that the winners of this year’s awards will be noted in other parts of the paper, but I want to express a genuine thank you to the Chamber of Commerce for including a category that honors educators each year.
When I first got a message on my answering machine about it, I had to wonder if one of my mischievous friends was playing a joke on me. I do have friends that have such a sense of humor. When I finally confirmed that it was the real thing, it was really hard for me to believe. I have won awards in the past for different things, but it has been a while. I think as we get older, we start feeling more and more invisible in some ways.
This is the most important thing I will say in this column. All teachers deserve to be acknowledged and appreciated for their work in the classroom. Teaching is not a career choice for the weak or the wimpy. It is hard work, challenging on many different levels, and rewarding in a way that is unique to any other job.
Dedicated teachers never leave their classroom behind. We think about what lessons we need to teach, what individual child may need extra help, and how we can be most effective. We worry about whether someone else would have a better idea or a better way of getting through to the students. We teach our hearts out and hope that what we are trying to impart sinks in to the children, not only in knowledge, but in character.
Harlan County teachers haven’t had a significant pay raise in several years and it doesn’t look like there are any in sight. Teachers do not choose educating children because of the pay, which may come as a total shock to some people. With the amount of time we must spend in college earning a bachelor’s degree with a specialized area of teaching, followed up by the amount of time we must put in on a master’s degree in order to stay certified, we could be raking in a lot more money in other fields. Teaching is not just a job. It is a calling. A person who thinks teaching is going to be an easy paycheck is in the wrong field and often does not stay in the classroom.
We have to be mediators between student arguments and hurt feelings. We have to be counselors to students from broken and dysfunctional homes who come to school falling asleep or hungry because no one at home is making their care a priority. We have to be an entertainer because today’s generation thinks everything is supposed to be fun. We have to be a drill sergeant at times because that’s the only way some students will ever buckle down and do their work. We have to be the psychologist who tries to impart positive self-esteem. We have to be the talent scout who realizes the gifts and potential of individual children and tries to find a way to let that child shine.
We have to be the nurse who recognizes when a child is truly not feeling well and needs to call home and the ones who want to call home and leave early because they didn’t do their assignment in a later class during the day. We have to be priests who keep the secret dreams and hopes of children in a safe place. Artists, musicians, actors, engineers, tele-communicators, gymnasts, nutritionists, event planners, and on and on – teachers have to put on these many varied roles at one time or the other. On some days, teachers will have to be all of these things to their students and more.
On top of that, test scores are ever present ghosts that haunt our thoughts and our classrooms. Performance on standardized tests has taken priority in public schools. Student performance will follow each student like a shadow throughout the rest of their educational process, and will leave an impression of the individual teacher and the school. With little to no student accountability and parental accountability, teachers are expected to carry the load and force the learning process, creating successful learners out of all children regardless of the support or lack of support the child gets anywhere else.
Throw in a few irate parents that would rather blame the school or the teacher for their child’s difficulties in the school setting or their inappropriate behaviors and/or study habits, and you begin to get the idea of the stress that teachers are under. Added to that is a constant string of paperwork – attendance reports, lesson plans, progress reports, school assessments, test analysis, committee assignments, school duties, faculty meetings, report cards, daily work to run off, grade and record in the computer grade book, essays to critique, and collaboration between faculty and departments.
I have loved teaching for the last 29 ½ years at Wallins Elementary School in Harlan County. There have been so many changes in that length of time in the state mandates, standards, goals, and teaching approaches to learning, that I can’t even remember them all. New programs and ideologies have had great success and failures. I have had great successes, and some feelings of failure because I always want to accomplish more than what we can possibly get done in one academic year. I’ve tried to go the extra mile to make a difference in my students’ lives. I’ve tried to instill within them the desire to become lifelong learners. I’ve tried to make as many connections between the school and community and between the generations of our students and their parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents generations as possible.
But I believe all dedicated teachers strive to do those things.
Any other teacher in Harlan County could have stood before the crowd at the Harlan County Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet and received the award I was given, and deserved the recognition for their years of dedication to the profession and years of service to Harlan County. When I accepted the award that is what I told the audience. All teachers who give their best to the classroom day after day deserve the recognition and appreciation that I received. I accepted it in behalf of all of us who have chosen to give our lives to teaching.
I was blessed to be this year’s recipient, and to have the opportunity to speak up for all of my fellow teachers. I am truly thankful for whoever nominated me and for the committee that made the decision in the end. The actual award is beautiful. I was deeply touched by the mini version of the award to place in my classroom. Whoever thought of that touched me more deeply than they can possibly know.
If you have had a teacher in your life that has made a difference for you, or one who is working hard right now to try to open doors of learning for your child, please let them know their hard work is appreciated. Realize that we are only human and doing the very best that we can do on any given day.
You know the old saying, “If you can read this… thank a teacher.”