I am sure that most school graduates have, over the years, remembered a particular teacher or professor that made a major difference in their lives. I have had the experience of this type of memories on both the giving and the receiving side.
My first teacher was my mom who taught me to read and write in English and Spanish. She taught me to write in cursive even before I learned block letters in school.
My experience was pretty close to the way traditional learning took place as teaching originally was done by mothers or older siblings or local school graduates that stayed to teach. The Three “Rs” was the essential learning expected and little else was required to develop and maintain an “educated” society in an American democracy.
By the time people went to school in the 20th Century there were certified graduates from normal schools or colleges teaching in classrooms across the country. Yet the community attitude that came with the original homespun institution tended to remain.
That attitude is that children’s education is like a family or community thing rather than a service offered by a highly trained professional whose pay and recognition demands a unique place of value. It also has not helped that the public schools teaching profession has been populated mainly by women whose place in society has only begun to raise its profile toward a proper level.
Teaching children has its own rewards. Yet, the work that goes into preparing to become a teacher, maintaining currency in the profession, the lesson-plans for each day and the human interaction that goes on between teachers and their students and teachers and parents requires a certain focus and commitment that is at the essence of the profession.
My undergraduate degree from the University of Northern Colorado was in teacher education. That required that I have an area of specialty and the teacher education courses from the certification tract.
The program also required a student-teaching experience that I did at Golden High School. It was during student-teaching that I realized that it was not enough to know the subject-matter, that it was not enough to master the methodology of teaching and learning and that it was not enough to be able to stand in front of 40 young minds and provide the information listed on my lesson-plan.
Something more was required and to this day I am not sure of what it is, but it has something to do with the patience and perseverance that goes with the sharing of our humanity. Our ideas are only an extension of who we are and that has to come through in the teacher-student interaction process.
Although I accomplished all my Golden High goals, I still came away thinking that teaching at a high school was not for me. Eventually I did become an educator, but it was at the undergraduate and graduate levels of colleges and universities where bonding with my students was more a matter of mutual choice.
In a sense, like many others, I valued the teaching profession at the public school level less than my experience in higher education. However, that came more from my inadequate ability to tap into the reservoir of that special understanding that a teacher must have in order to reach students.
Policy makers also should look at the reasons why they have continued to undervalue the teaching profession. It is well to remember that the graduating senior walking across a stage is the product of dedicated teachers.