To Whom It May Concern:
I keep seeing articles written by professors bemoaning the state of public education. They describe the lack of critical thinking and the horrible reading and writing skills. They go on about how woefully unprepared our current students for college, career and life in general. Sometimes the culprit is a culture of low expectations. Other times, they take shots at the factory system of education. A few have even blamed what they perceive to be the low quality of K-12 teachers.
I don't deny that there are sometimes low expectations. I don't deny that standardized tests suck. There are certainly some flaws in our education system.
And yet . . .
As a college professor, I just spent two hours reading the forum discussions and viewing PSA videos for my Ethical Considerations of Technology class. They are wrestling with challenging, nuanced, provocative views on the nature of social media.
Earlier this morning, I read blog posts written by future teachers, like this one about student engagement or this one about creating a Shark Tank experience. For the last month, they have worked tirelessly at their craft, knowing that the teaching profession is often the first to be blamed for every social ill.
A few months ago, I was a middle school teacher. My students left me each year and I rarely got a chance to see the rest of the story. I knew the areas where they still struggled. I had a clear picture of the parts that were left behind. What I missed in all of this is who they would turn out to be in five or six years. I had no idea just how much they would learn in high school and just how many amazing teachers they would have.
Now that I can see further along in the journey, I'm left with an overwhelming thought:
Thank you to all of the primary teachers who taught my current group of students how to read. I don't completely understand the science of phonics and blending. But you do. And, miraculously, millions of kids learn to read every year. Thank you for loving students who are scared to go to school or who feel shy or alone. Thank you for not believing the lie that there are "good and bad kids."
Thank you to all of the middle school teachers who love students during the awkward, difficult, and painful age. Thank you for being patient in the midst of attitude and insecurity. Thank you for helping them feel known when they feel all alone.
Thank you for all the high school teachers who have guided students toward adulthood. Thank you for imparting your passion for your subject. Thank you for pushing their thinking even when they think they have all the answers.
Thank you to all of the teachers who inspire critical thinking in the midst of a compliant culture. The vast majority of you are under intense pressure to teach to the test and yet you manage to be rebellious. I don't think people realize just how much courage it takes to push critical thinking and creativity at all costs.
Thank you for all the teachers who inspire a love of learning. Thank you for knowing students relationally and finding books that they want to read. Thank you for correcting their writing, even when it might lead to hurt feelings. Thank you for finding ways to get past the cultural lie that some people "just aren't math people." Thank you for helping them learn the art of observation in science, even when the culture embraces scientific illiteracy. Thank you for making history fun and relevant and engaging, even when society says that nobody will use the subject.
Thank you for all the joy, the creativity, the passion, and the wisdom you impart.