Teachers are traditionally quiet, humble people who are not comfortable with spotlights and recognition. Such are the admirable personal traits of the multitude of teachers. However, such characteristics, when applied professionally, may do us and the children we serve a great harm.
Our quiet ways have sent the wrong message to the taxpaying public. These citizens don't hear anything exciting about education. They don't see impressive teachers. They seem to believe they are not getting their money's worth.The actions of a vocal minority have threatened our funding and left teachers feeling devalued and demoralized. How did we allow a grossly unfair misperception of our educational system to grow unchecked? More importantly, however, how will we turn it around?
First, we teachers must recognize that to promote ourselves and our students is not vanity. It is a means to secure the quality, perhaps even the survival, of our public school system. We must effectively advertise our accomplishments. We must share with the public the reasons for the pride we feel in our students. We must aggressively challenge those armed with half-truths and innuendoes, for we have our story to tell and it is a story of service, sacrifice and success.
So pardon us if we urge our students to make their new knowledge something they want to show off at home. Excuse us if we write newsletters, send personal notes and make phone calls. And yes, bless their hearts, I know that such things take a teacher's time - a rare and precious commodity - but for those of us who have seen the power of an enthusiastic parent, time spent on communication with the home is an essential investment.
I'd love to see parents and teachers become grass-roots lobbyists on behalf of our children. I'd love to invite legislators to see teachers show off. This would help the legislators to understand the importance of what we are doing and that the pride in our accomplishments is limited only by our frustration at not being able to offer our kids the individual attention, the special help, the equipment and supplies they truly need.
Yes, teachers can be idealists, dreamers. But what good is an ideal if one must constantly whittle it down to fit what seems pragmatic to an accountant? The political climate may make it somewhat inconvenient to support the full funding of Utah schools, but those with leadership, statesmanship and vision will put our children ahead of short-term expediency.
Finally, we must open ourselves to a new partner. More and more private businesses are involving themselves in public schools. These people are not bleeding hearts offering a handout to the needy. They see their contributions to education as a wise and prudent investment. We must seek them out. Make a sales pitch. Give a business the opportunity to do our schools a favor. We are selling a dream in which we all have a stake.
Teachers are not looking for cheap praise. We do not seek recognition for its own sake. We have long known the difference between a pat on the back and a pat on the head. But we need to renew in ourselves the worth of our work.
Is the high self-esteem we work so hard to instill in our students so wrong to foster in ourselves? And so, for ourselves as teachers and for our students, we must make it a priority to impress others with our commitment, our ingenuity and our successes.
As Dizzy Dean once said, "It ain't braggin' if you can do it."
Well, we do it every day. But we don't call it bragging. We call it teaching.