Public school teachers get a lot of grief. Students give them a hard time. Parents give them a hard time. Politicians give them a hard time.
But a few weeks ago, as I attended a school band concert, I had an epiphany.
I've been going to school band concerts for the past four years, ever since my older daughter was in the fourth grade. Those early concerts were frankly pretty excruciating. You don't know what torture is until you've heard one fourth-grader after another perform a brief solo on his or her implement. I mean instrument.
And when they're all playing at once!
But this year's concert was different. The music hung together like magic. The trombones provided a strong foundation. The clarinets confidently picked out the melody. The music sounded like music.
And that's when I realized something I'm ashamed to admit I'd never really thought about before: Public school is a pretty good deal. I turn my children over to some teachers for a few hours every day and eventually my kids can read music and play music, just as they can read books and multiply numbers and name the capitals of more U.S. states than I can.
Teachers did that.
Yes, I helped. I'm a parent who tells my kids that school is important. I make sure they're well rested and well fed. I help them with their homework when they ask, which, for some reason, is practically never. (They know that my math skills topped out in the third grade and that my opinions about reading and writing are too strongly held to make me a dispassionate party.)
But it was teachers who really did the work.
And what work it is. Unless you're an emergency room surgeon or a soldier in Iraq, whatever you did yesterday probably isn't as important as what a teacher does every day. Teaching our kids? For free?
Okay, it isn't for free. We get taxed, and they get paid. That's how it works. But what a deal it is.
And to those citizens who resent that their taxes go to build schools and pay teachers, what's wrong with you? Who's going to keep this country going or pull it out of trouble? Tomorrow's adults -- today's kids. You want they should be morons?
I guess if I was a real columnist I would bemoan our sorry schools or decry them.
But today, on the last day of school for my daughters, I'm just a parent who wants to say thank you to all the teachers they've had this year and every year before this.
Drive a Datsun Then Decide
Many of you probably have no idea what a Datsun is. It's what Nissans used to be called in this country before 1983.
I have an old Datsun, a spiffy convertible built in 1968. Because I'm a person who loves old cars but can do only the most routine work on them, I've depended on Datsun Dynamics, on Route 7 in Vienna, to keep my roadster on the road.
But after 23 years, catering first to Datsuns and then to just about anything with four wheels and an internal combustion engine, owner Greg Masters says the shop is closing its doors.
When you find a mechanic you trust, you're reluctant to go anywhere else. When I visited Datsun Dynamics last week, a blue 1964 Chevy Impala was up on one of the shop's five lifts, almost ready for its owner -- in Boston. One customer used to drive his Datsun 280ZX Turbo all the way from Oregon to Virginia once a year to have it worked on by Greg. Another lives in Florida.
In addition to fixing thousands of cars, Greg and the other guys who worked at Datsun Dynamics also raced at tracks up and down the East Coast.
About 21/2 years ago, on the last lap of a race in Watkins Glen, N.Y., Greg spun out and hit a wall hard. Even so, he walked away from the accident and didn't even go to the hospital.
Two weeks later, though, while on vacation with his family in Palm Springs, Calif., he found himself sitting on the bed in his hotel room wanting to get dressed and unsure how to do it. He'd had a stroke, and it was only his wife Andrea's quick thinking, plus months of follow-up therapy, that have gotten him to the point he is today, where you can barely tell he came close to dying.
Greg says "it's time" to close the shop. He wants to spend more time with his son, Robbie, and daughters Sara and Victoria.
The stroke, he said, "made me think that every day is a good day. Every morning when I wake up, it's a good day."
For him, maybe. Me, I've got to find a new mechanic.
Revving It Up for Camp
Our eight-week drive to raise $650,000 for Camp Moss Hollow hits the two-week mark today. So far, we've raised $44,241.60. Here's how you can make a tax-deductible contribution:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."
To donate by MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.
Or you can let your stomach do the talking today. Order the spinach salad with spiced pecans and strawberries at any area McCormick & Schmick's or the spinach salad with hot bacon dressing at any M&S Grill. All proceeds will benefit Camp Moss Hollow.
My e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.