I just finished watching most of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”.
Starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson, a sourpuss Latin teacher (Donat) at a boys’ school becomes a beloved institution thanks to the love and belief of a good woman and lots of little men. I’m a sucker for teacher movies. My parents were both teachers and I married a teacher. Teaching is in my blood. I have great belief in teachers and their impact. My dad still hears – and sometimes sees – old students. We could be in Chicago, walking through O’Hare International Airport to reach our connecting flight. We could be at a Globetrotters game like we were back in March. “Mr. Cheston! Mr. Cheston! It’s Bill Jones. Remember me? I was in your 8th grade social studies class/on your soccer and /or wrestling team”. It’s happened more than once while we’ve been out and about. The man at the Globetrotters game, a classmate of my brother, actually became a teacher because of my dad’s influence. That’s some kind of power.
See, teachers get a bad rap. The NEA is a bit…out there sometimes. Unions can be difficult to work with, from the inside or the outside. But teaching is a good thing. Wanting to pass on learning to someone else is a vocation. It’s a calling, a mission. It can give your life a purpose and a shape.
What I think people on the outside don’t understand is how polarizing and political teaching public school has become. Before Jonathon moved on to another job, he was asked to teach a class on character. Really?! How *does* one teach that? Is that Scholastica curriculum? He also found he wouldn’t be able to keep his position at the school for much longer. The person who just a year before loved him now had a new favorite. He got methodically pushed out.
Why do people become teachers? Ask any one of them, and they almost always say the same thing: the light bulb moment.
The light bulb moment happens when a student understands a concept. Something just clicks. The brain grabs onto an idea and for the first time, grasps a new thing. I’ve seen it with my own kids. It’s intoxicating. Remember when you personally last had an “aha!” moment. The sun shone ’round about you and the rainbows released doves? Ring a bell? Yeah. It’s good. Super wicked good, that high. So very good that you might want to share that with every single person you can. Imagine facilitating that on a near-daily basis. Then you get it.
I know there are broken parts around public schools. Funding and facilities fall short. Kids attending school bring with them their own unique challenges to overcome, from missing parents to abuse to unstable housing. Now parents of school-aged kids have several options, including charter schools and homeschooling. I’m all for options. But let’s start paying public school teachers better. They usually work during vacations. They often pay for supplies out of their own money. They use their time, energy and talents to raise up the next generation. Their influence is enormous. They’re worth it.