In Praise of Teachers
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week. All week, there are small and big celebrations throughout our schools to celebrate all the wonderful things our teachers are doing in the classroom.
I think the most challenging job is that of being a teacher – for any grade! I personally would never teach in the middle school grades – the developing personalities, the hygiene conversations, the heightened emotions. I don’t think I have the patience to start that challenging career.
Luckily, there are plenty of people in D.C. who do have the patience – and the ambition and intelligence – to teach. Their task is made even more daunting by the student body they see each day.
According to D.C. KIDS COUNT data, nearly one in three children here lives below the federal poverty line — which is about $22,000 a year for a family of four. In Ward 8, the child poverty rate is nearly 50 percent!
75 percent of children in D.C. public schools, and 80 percent of children in public charter schools, qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
What does all of this data say about children and youth in our city? More importantly, what does it say about policy makers and how they see children? For that matter, how do policy makers view the role of teachers?
The image I have for my children is that of creativity, courage, and comfort. I want to share experiences, exposing them to the arts, culture and laughter. In contrast, the sobering statistics about D.C. highlight, for me, images of children who are hungry, abused or neglected, and starving for attention and love. I have a hard time accepting that this is the image others would have of our children – of the District – and that with the affluence and power here, D.C. has some of the most deprived children in the country.
My biggest worry isn’t just the lack of money or food for those children in poverty, but rather the suffering from the lack of social and emotional support, the lack of security, and the lack of love. Many children are deeply wounded by this kind of poverty – socially and emotionally – and will confront challenges my children will never have to face.
Next to parents, who are caring for our children? Our teachers!
We are finally focusing more and more on teachers in the debates around the different strategies for improving outcomes for children. For me, I want to take this opportunity to thank teachers for their contributions in our schools and in our communities.
I’m sure everyone with a child in their life has their own stories of how a teacher has made an impact. My own involves my son, who came home one day from school and said, “I love Ms. M. She loves me. She looks at me all the time” I just about fell over. This little boy who didn’t want to go to school and had a hard time transitioning into the daily routine of the 9 to 3 school day. For him – it wasn’t his friends or his homework, but rather his teacher that pulled him in. She ensured he felt cared for and applauded his efforts in the classroom. As a result, his interest and desire to do better in school spiked and he wanted to get to his classroom earlier to give his teacher a hug. As a parent, this is ALL I ask for and this is truly the biggest gift any teacher could give my son – a love for school and learning. And the feeling of being loved.
What teachers do on a daily basis is quite incredible! They recognize the need to invest in our children and their future! They are part of the solution, actively engaged in the daily lives of children. We should all care, because when you work with and for children, they are a reflection of who we are. They are our future. One day, they will represent our work force, our decision makers, our leaders, our caretakers — and we all have an interest in their success. Their success will determine the well-being and growth of this city and beyond.
Yes, it is overwhelming just to wrap your head around the difficult state D.C. is in when it comes to serving our children. I know many of you feel like I do — is there any real way to make a difference in their lives? There are so many needs and not enough resources. That’s why we have to do it together. Even if you help one child, with one need, that is progress. But most of you will have the opportunity to help more than one child. What an incredible opportunity! And our teachers are actively seizing that opportunity and making change happen!
On behalf of ALL the children of our city — thank you to every teacher for your commitment to change and your commitment to making a difference in the lives of children. All of you motivate me and make me want to do my job even better, so I can eventually showcase data and trends that children in our city are graduating and succeeding! I want to document the successes you all bring into the lives of our children.
All of you are on a path to make a difference!