Traveling always strengthens and reaffirms my faith in teachers across America. Read on for a reflection I wrote for WeAreTeachers during a recent stint to work with a small village in Alaska.
For years I’ve been teaching. For these same years I’ve been exposed to conversations about teachers in America. Each day I hear people talk about what teachers are and what they are not. I hear these talks from people who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in decades, who base their opinions on sensationalized news stories, who use Facebook feeds to screen their version of truth.
I wish they could see what I’ve seen. Parents, politicians, critics of education. I wish that what I saw aligned with what I heard them say. Some say we are lazy. Some say we are unwilling to change. Some say we are failures. But I see what they don’t. And, I see it everywhere.
I travel the nation – from the tundra of Alaska, to the borders of Texas, from great plains to deteriorating cities. I work with students. I collaborate with teachers. I talk with administrators and observe classrooms. And, I see educators across America in daily battles to better lives.
I see America teaching.
I see teachers immersed in remote villages, battling against decades of poverty and political mistreatment to restore, inspire, and empower forgotten communities and their cultures. I see them preparing impoverished students for a continually changing society while preserving centuries of tradition and heritage.
I see teachers in inner cities living lives of excellence as they model character to malleable young minds. I see how they still manage to motivate teens to enter their rooms instead of deal dope on streets that pay better than their broken classroom seats.
I see teachers in oil boom towns revamping entire buildings as populations double, preparing for more work, more management, more pressure without compensation to match. I see them preparing for what learning looks like when half the class doesn’t have a place to sit – and wondering how long it will last until their funding flies out with the next migration.
I see teachers working without contracts, losing hundreds of dollars each month, thousands of dollars each year to political power games – and working just as hard despite it all to fight for what’s best for their students, their children.
I see teachers having change after change thrown in their way by suits removed from the classroom. I see professional educators being chastised by policies written by politicians who itch with instant gratification – with no appreciation for the time, the energy, the investment it takes to transform one of America’s most complex systems. And still, I see these teachers show up each year with openness and ambition to try new technologies and techniques, new curricula and concepts.
I see teachers leaving their anger at the door as they try to restore dignity to the profession – a respect that gets lost every time Johnny on the news digs for juicy leads about a teacher controversy. I see thousands of models of integrity having to stand strong behind shadows of isolated scandals.
I see teachers stepping in as surrogate parents for homeless kids, whether it be lending an ear to hear their stories, a meal to hold off their hunger, or a shelter to shield them from the cold.
I see teachers rallying communities and classrooms to overcome senseless tragedies as their students and alumni get shot to death in movie theaters or silenced by suicide. I see them standing strong to hone in on what little hope their kids have left, helping them harness a purpose for persevering.
I see America teaching.
For those who see teachers as failures, as frauds, as overpaid and underworked wastes of tax dollars, look again. Look beyond your news feeds and detached memories. Because America is teaching – America is fighting to fix issues beyond our 12 x 12 walls. America is fighting for every child, every day, in every way possible.
Look around you. And, you will see it. You will see educators defying the disrespect they get dealt each day. You will see passion and persistence, talent and tenacity. You will see America teaching.