My recent observations on the lack of respect given public-school teachers in Georgia engendered a lot of responses, but none better than this story sent to me by my friend, David Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island and a former educator himself.
I commend it to those members of the General Assembly who seem to spend more time and effort these days trying to starve public schools to death financially and promoting private school scholarship schemes with no public accountability and with all sorts of opportunity for abuse, rather than giving public-school teachers the tools and support they need to succeed.
It also should provide some perspective to all those who aren’t in the public school arena and who have no idea what school teachers go through; who think teachers can close the door on all of society’s problems and blithely manage the bureaucratic and uncoordinated red tape at all levels of government from Washington to the local school board. Meanwhile, the rest of us are free to stand on the sidelines and second-guess them, even though we couldn’t do what they do under the same circumstances.
It also is a reminder to the four public-school teachers in my family of the potential they have to change young lives for the better and forever — something most of us have neither the ability nor the interest in doing.
Here goes: A group of dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.
One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education.
He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”
He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” To stress his point he said to another guest, “You’re a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?”
Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, “Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
“I make a C-plus feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can’t make them sit for five without an iPod, GameCube or movie rental.
“You want to know what I make? (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table.)
“I make kids wonder.
“I make them question.
“I make them apologize and mean it.
“I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.
“I teach them to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn’t everything.
“I make them read, read, read.
“I make them show all their work in math. They use their God given brain, not the man-made calculator.
“I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know about English while preserving their unique cultural identity.
“I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.
“I make my students stand, placing their hand over their heart to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, one nation under God, because we live in the United States of America.
“Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.
“Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money isn’t everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant. You want to know what I make? I make a difference. What do you make, Mr. CEO?”
There’s not much I can add to that, except to say that members of the General Assembly should put down the ideological anti-public school Kool-Aid they are slurping and paste her remarks on their foreheads. To them and to rest of us: Walk a mile or two in a school teacher’s shoes and see what they have to deal with before you start throwing stones at them.
Finally, to public-school teachers: The story David Egan shared may be the stuff of legends but the facts are not. What you make is a difference — a big difference. Never forget that.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.