Teacher Appreciation Week

Teachers have a hard job. Somehow everything is their fault. We rarely blame the parents or the administration or the kids themselves. We like to blame those lazy teachers, who clearly went into the job for the money.

It’s easy to dump on teachers and education in general. Marketing guru Seth Godin has given education a beating, especially with the release of his latest book, Linchpin. I haven’t read it, but much of they hype and talk surrounding the book’s release related to education. It centered on the idea that schools churn out similar students who are factory automatons and don’t know how to think differently or be remarkable—resulting in failure in the real world. I constantly hear people go on much like Godin does about how horrible schools are.

I think that’s a bunch of garbage.

Maybe I’m just an automaton freak who enjoys going along with the crowd, but I liked school (the education part—not so much the crippling social interactions that make me feel embarrassed even decades later). I generally love the stuff Godin has to say, and he probably does have a point here, but I still liked school. It might help that I did well in school (as Godin notes, that simply means I’m good at the process they put students through, not necessarily that I learned). It might help that I went to a wealthy suburban school district. It might help that I had great teachers. But I liked school.

There are always examples of bad schools and poor teachers. You can find bad apples in any field. But in general, I think our teachers and schools are pretty amazing.

So despite the continual drubbing our teachers and schools face, I want to say thanks. It’s teacher appreciation week and I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t have teachers who cared. I wouldn’t be making a living doing what I love, I wouldn’t be putting out a crazy book about my kids, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. So thank you.

Earlier today I tracked down and e-mailed my third grade teacher to say thank you (I created FX-77 Spacefighter in her class). I found a few others and said thank you to them as well, though there are countless more I’ll never be able to track down.

There were the cool projects we did with Mrs. Still, Mr. Schweitzer and Mr. Herman. I remember the mock election (I campaigned hard for Dukakis thinking he was the guy my grandparents had met, then quickly switched to Bush when I realized I had the wrong guy [they had met Bob Dole]) and an invention project (mine was a barely functional locker opener/organizer—because we all needed a contraption to open our locker for us and then sit there in the hall to organize our stuff).

There was Ms. Jones who taught middle school art and shocked me by encouraging me to take more art classes when I thought I had no talent. I didn’t take her advice then, but in college I did go back to art and ended up minoring in it.

There was Mr. Kopec who made science cool. I spent many lunch hours in his classroom putting together random projects and hours after school geeking it up for the Science Olympiad.

There was the typically stern German teacher, Mrs. Ahlstrom. In sixth grade we took all the foreign languages on a short term trial basis. To this day I can still recite the alphabet in German. I’m not sure if that’s a credit to her teaching or the similarity to the English alphabet. I had her again in eighth grade for English (I think they were short on teachers) and she encouraged some of my early attemps at combining my faith and writing. They weren’t very good (that’s when I discovered the thesaurus), but you have to start somewhere.

There was Ms. Hilfiker who taught high school social studies. She was a young teacher and always so excited, even if we weren’t.

There was Mrs. Sullivan, a longtime teacher who taught several advanced-level, weighted literature classes with intimidating names like Literary Criticism and Philosophy of Literature. She scared me. I remember choosing to read and write an essay on Huckleberry Finn because I hadn’t read it yet and feeling so very inadequate—how do you say anything new or unique about Mark Twain’s classic? To this day I remember a comment Mrs. Sullivan made about didactic literature not being very good. I didn’t understand it then, but the crux of it was the importance of story over the lesson. That resonates now.

There was Mr. Hoffman and all things physics. I still remember tinkering with our mouse trap car and staying up late to see Comet Hale Bopp.

There was Jan Golding (Mekula), the lesbian writing teacher. A well-meaning but misguided Christian friend suggested I stay far away from her class. I’m glad I didn’t listen. On the first day of Beginning Creative Writing she sent me straight to the office to change my schedule to the advanced class. Despite the differences in our beliefs (and I was, let’s say, less than subtle back then) she poured herself into me and helped me be a better writer.

I could probably go on and on, but I’ll leave lots of folks out and we’ll be here all day. It kind of amazes me that I have these strong memories 15-20 years later.

So let’s just say thanks.

Full disclosure: My wife is a teacher. She’s likely the only reason I’m aware of teacher appreciation week.

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