By Anita Gibson, AEA President
With so much to be done in the closing weeks, the ending of a school year can quickly become an excited frenzy. Now is the time of year when students and parents begin to express their appreciation for all you have done for them.
Regardless of our job titles, we are all educators. Each of us has multiple opportunities and responsibilities to influence and mold the lives of the children entrusted to our care. As I thought about this, I pondered – from my own experiences – what would education employees appreciate the most?
Would it be an extended break? Would it be a lunch free of interruptions; a week of no parent conferences; a day without discipline issues on the bus; an hour without phones constantly ringing in the office; going a day without cleaning up after a sick child; or the obvious, a longer summer and a pay raise!?
We’ve all seen the bumper stickers of non-education people: ”Three reasons to be an educator: June, July, and August.” We all know that sometimes school isn’t actually out until June and it starts back in August, so shouldn’t it say, “The reason to be an educator is…July?” Then we have those well-meaning friends who say, “I wish I had one of those jobs where you only work until 3 p.m. and have summers and weekends off.” Where are they when we are at work before daylight getting the bus ready or already preparing food for the day? Where are they when we are grading papers and making lesson plans well after midnight and on weekends?
Is the reason we work in public education because we enjoy the daily mine field of teenage hormones, standardized tests, and a society who prefers video games to reading and creativity? We all know those are not the reasons. At the risk of sounding like politicians who run on the platform of “saving our children” we all know that the reason we do what we do IS because of the children.
We serve because of the desire to instill knowledge and to help our students realize their full potential. Each day you are at work you touch a child’s life. What kind of touch is yours? Think about it, years from now your students may remember neither the exact dates of a particular moment in history, nor the exact conjugation of a verb, but they will forever remember you and the impact you made on their life. You may never consciously realize your impact on your students. It is only when you meet them again as they have become adults and they introduce you to their spouse, or show you pictures of their children, that you realize the most important of all the things you taught them was character and self-respect. Seemingly minor in the scheme of facts, homework, and tests, but these are the traits that will stay with them forever; and these are the traits they will pass to their children. It’s easy to be caught in the whirlwind of school; it’s easy to feel like you are underpaid and underappreciated. Today’s society demands instant gratification. Appreciation is not instant and sometimes takes years for those to appreciate our influence.
The blacksmith makes Damascus steel by putting it in the fire and molding it, lapping it over and over – a long, laborious process. At first it doesn’t look like much more than a wad of raw metal, but he lovingly hones it, shapes it, and smooths it into a beautiful piece of metal – each different from the rest. The same is true of our students, we mold and shape them and provide them with not only a “book education” but also a “life education’ – all through our daily example. While your efforts may seem to go unnoticed, you must be content in knowing that each day you are striving to reach your goal – to make a difference in the life of a child.
Tom Brokaw once said, “It’s easy to make a buck, it’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” I know that you realize you are dealing with Alabama’s future and you have dedicated your lives to making our students the best that they can be. Many of you could work in the private sector and be more financially rewarded. Thank you for the personal sacrifices of your time and effort.
John F. Kennedy once said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.” As a member of the Alabama Education Association, you are a vital part of a team effort to preserve the integrity of public education in Alabama. Each of us must realize the importance of the roles we play in changing the public’s opinion of our public school system. Let us embrace the challenges facing us with optimism and hope. Who better to inform the general public and our legislators and candidates about what is right with public education, and the opportunities available to them to partner with us than those of us serving in public education.
Regardless of our membership category, we each have a responsibility to ensure that Alabama’s public education system progresses as quickly as our business world so that we can not only meet, but exceed the educational needs of our students. Thomas A. Edison said, “Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” We cannot afford to be content with the status quo in our profession. I encourage you as individuals to rise to the challenges of serving in our public school system.
Have a wonderful summer, and be sure you vote for pro-public education candidates on June 3.