Tomorrow, a lot of people will know whether or not they’ll be occupying the local, state, or national offices for which they’ve been campaigning for what seems (heck, has been) an eternity. For those of you who will occupy those offices, here’s one problem I hope you’ll take the time to tackle.
Her name was Mrs. Foster.
She taught kindergarten at Incarnate Word grammar school in New Orleans. Mrs. Foster taught me my ABC's and that 1+1 = 2. She also taught me that Dick and Jane could run - usually after some dog named Spot. She was an institution in 1953 and remained so for years after. Granite had less permanence.
Mrs. Brown made me a better speller and Mrs. Sullivan taught me the secrets of a proper paragraph.
Father Charles made science interesting and Father Dominic (I’m Catholic, as you might surmise) saw to it that mathematics would never be something to fear.
Ben Suhor taught English Literature at Redemptorist high school and gave me a love for reading that’s still with me to this day.
In college, H. Allen Wycherley was the toughest English teacher I ever had. I had him for a required course my freshman year and hated every minute of it. I came to believe that the only pencil he ever carried was the red one he used to slash his way through my best efforts at writing papers.
I hated his class so much that, for the next three years, I took every elective course I could find with his name on it. I never made anything higher than a "B" in any of his courses but, to paraphrase John Houseman, "I earned it."
Bill Herke taught me Marine Biology and helped me achieve the dream of commanding research ships.
The names differ for each of us, but I'll wager the memories are about the same.
Learning is like facing a locked door. On the other side are fascinating and interesting things. The problem is the door. Too often, we don't know how to open it.
Teachers not only open those doors, they take us through and give us a guided tour of the other side. They explain art and astronomy, biology and chemistry, history and literature, and the best do it with passion.
And we remember the tough ones best.
They were the ones who showed us that what we thought were our best efforts were nowhere near what we were capable of. We hated them for what they put us through but, whenever we think back to the moments when we truly achieved something, they were usually at the start of it all.
Tomorrow, we elect another set of people to represent us. Once they’re settled in, I believe it’d be a good idea to remind them (frequently) that, in order to improve the state of education in our nation, we have to attract the best and the brightest to the field of education.
That takes money. Not money to the NEA or to any other union. Not money to start up some new (and, far too often, dumb) program or other, but money aimed directly at the tip of the spear - that is, directly into the pockets of those who teach and teach well.
So, to all of you elected officials - once you’ve settled in, take a hard look at the budget. Skip a few pet projects. Cut (horrors!) a few programs that’ve outlived their usefulness. Put off refurbishing your office. Make do with a smaller staff. Hang on to the “old” computers. Cancel a few “fact-finding” trips. Cut back on per diem. Keep the same vehicles for another year. Turn off the lights at night. Turn the thermostat down. Hell, hold bake sales. I don't care how you do it, just find a way to give (good) teachers the pay needed to attract the best and keep them in the business.
If you need yet another reason to do so, think back to the one teacher who had the biggest effect on your life. Now imagine yourself going up to that teacher and saying "Sorry, but you're just not worth it."
Right. I couldn’t do it either.
So find a way.
We'll get you your new desk and another staffer later. Might even end up naming a building after you one day.
Biography - Larry Simoneaux
Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.