Comparisons between K-12 education and business have to be viewed cautiously. Business and education are very different types of enterprises. But in at least one significant way, they are similar: The quality of personnel is of greatest importance in both sectors.
No matter how sophisticated or extensive a school district’s resources or how carefully developed its policies, without the skill and commitment of its staff—particularly, the teachers—the education program cannot succeed.
My previous “Reflections” column addressed the evolving role of parents in education. Today, as we conclude Teacher Appreciation Week, May 4-8, I’d like to share thoughts on the foundation of our education programs: our teachers.
Local school board governance sets important goals for a district’s classrooms. However, it is the daily interaction between our state’s more than 138,000 public school teachers and their students that is the heart of education. Nothing is more important.
In 1953, Congress, at the urging of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, set aside a day to honor the nation’s teachers. The day evolved into Teacher Appreciation Week. And across the nation this week, many parent groups took the opportunity and followed the lead of the national PTA by expressing thanks to our teachers.
During my career as a district superintendent, I have shared with various faculties the observations of internationally recognized researcher and educator Dr. Hiam Ginnott. For me, his work has carried real impact and meaning. In his 1975 book, Teacher and Child, he summarizes the influence—the power—of the teacher over a child’s self-concept, learning and future as follows:
I have come to a frightening conclusion. I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.
Forty years later, these words, which emphasize the art and “humanism” of teaching, still ring true. It’s a profession that cannot be undervalued and which must be held to the highest standards.
Everyone can point to at least one teacher who inspired and healed and guided them—someone they will remember throughout their lives. For me, it was Miss Ann Sloan, my fifth-grade teacher. But I’m certain that many of my classmates at the Seth Boyden School in Maplewood would point to other educators who played as significant a role in their lives.
Teacher Appreciation Week gives us an opportunity to recognize the special interaction that takes place between teacher and student. But the support must go beyond one week. Throughout the year, every decision made by a school board or administrator—all of our efforts—should be based on making that sacred interaction as effective as humanly possible.
These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].
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