One Last Assignment: Give Your Teachers an A+

Teacher Angela Sims helps Henry Romero and Daisha Danson with reading at Marie Reed Learning Center.
Teacher Angela Sims helps Henry Romero and Daisha Danson with reading at Marie Reed Learning Center. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By John Kelly
Thursday, June 14, 2007

If you can read this, thank a teacher.

If you can calculate a 15 percent tip, thank a teacher.

If you can find B flat on a clarinet, thank a teacher.

If you know how an oxbow lake forms or what photosynthesis is or what the green light in "The Great Gatsby" symbolizes, thank a teacher.

If you can speak intelligently about the causes of the Civil War or understand the passé composé or figure out the molarity of a sodium chloride solution, thank a teacher.

Thank a teacher, because you weren't born knowing this stuff. You were once a blank slate -- a tabula rasa -- and a teacher filled you in.

Thank a teacher if you know what tabula rasa means. Or in medias res. Or deus ex machina.

We don't really thank teachers enough, do we? And yet I can't think of people more vital to our future. You might be sitting in the Pentagon right now, directing some aspect of the global war on terrorism. You might be in an operating room, performing liposuction. You might be dribbling a basketball in the NBA Finals. You might be doing something really, really important, but I have news for you: What you're doing isn't as important -- as sacred, as noble -- as teaching a child.

Or as hard. Can you imagine standing in front of 25 or 30 kids all day, every day? And not just standing in front of them, but teaching them, molding their malleable little brains. You'd have to pay me to do that. (But evidently not too much. Shouldn't teachers earn as much as, say, newspaper columnists?)

Granted, you've had some bad teachers. You've had teachers who were barely a chapter ahead of you in the textbook. You've had teachers who failed to recognize your innate wonderfulness. There are people who aren't cut out to be teachers, just as there are people who shouldn't be architects or ballet dancers.

But you've had some good teachers, too. If you're lucky, you've had one or two great ones, teachers who were enthusiastic about their calling, who inspired you, who made you understand.

It must be tough to be a teacher these days. First, there are the parents who don't impose any discipline whatsoever on their kids and expect schools to make up for the neglect that children suffer at home. Then there are the anxious, overinvolved parents, the ones who say, "My child is gifted and talented" out of one corner of their mouths then ask out of the other: "Why are you giving him so much homework?"

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