by Renée A. Middleton, Ph.D.
Dean, The Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education
Waiting at the Post Office I saw a young man in military fatigues. He stood dignified, a picture perfect soldier. After conducting his business, he stepped to leave. As he walked past, an elderly woman stopped him, reached out her hand, looked him in the eye and said, “Thank you for your service.”
It’s a sentiment that can never be expressed enough – gratitude to our service people whose career is to ensure the health and safety of our nation. They lay their lives on the line so that we may enjoy the benefits of our democracy.
There are many, not just those in the armed forces, whose lives are devoted to serving our nation. People like police officers, firemen, and public school teachers.
At first glance it may seem odd to include teachers in that list, but please hear me out. Like servicemen and those in public safety, public school teachers do not choose their careers for the easy hours or generous compensation. For many teachers the workday begins before 7:30 a.m., and it lasts long after the 3 p.m. bell. Their afternoons and weekends are full supervising extracurriculars. They grade papers and prepare lesson plans long into the night. Summers are no respite from their 10-hour days. Many take on summer jobs to make ends meet.
And yet, even as these men and women struggle to cover their own bills, they still pay out of pocket for supplies for their students. The life of a public school teacher is about service. It is ensuring that every student has access to a bright tomorrow, even if that means the teacher has to tighten his or her belt.
Teachers enter a classroom of 25 children, each learning at a different pace. They are tasked with ensuring every one meets state mandates. I have heard an accomplished teacher say that when it comes to teaching a subject like reading for her first graders, she is really teaching six or seven different classes. She must adapt her lessons for those who are gifted and for those who need extra assistance and levels between. She was matter of fact about this, without exasperation or frustration. To her and countless others in her position, a teacher always ensures every young learner meets state requirements. It does not matter how big of a task it is. It is her calling, her job.
Their work keeps America strong. They, like our rightfully lauded servicemen and women, work to secure the future of American democracy. The backbone of any strong democracy is an educated electorate. The children at the desks will one day vote and maybe run for office. No matter how they participate in democracy, students will use skills and values learned at a teacher’s knee.
Our public school teachers nurture our children. They are a constant presence, offering instruction, discipline, and praise. Public school teachers care deeply about every class. Many have, without a moment’s hesitation, made the ultimate sacrifice to protect for their students. Who can forget the stories of the heroic teachers in Newtown, Conn. who perished saving their children? Of the Oklahoma teachers who threw themselves on top of their classes as a tornado whipped through their school? Their sacrifice is as inspiring as it is tragic.
It is with deep humility that I say to teachers, “Thank you for your service!”
Thank you for answering the call the serve. Thank you for caring for children long after they have left your classroom. Thank you for every hour spent nudging a child in the right direction. Thank you for encouraging dreams and nurturing self-reliance. Thank you for seeing the future in the eight-year-old at work. Your time, energy, and effort do not go unnoticed. Thank you for your service yesterday, today, and tomorrow.