During the presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower, James Michener, author of Hawaii, The Source, and other mega-sellers, was invited to a celebrity dinner at the White House. In a letter Michener declined to attend: “Dear Mr. President: I received your invitation three days after I had agreed to speak a few words at a dinner honoring the wonderful high school teacher who taught me how to write. I know you will not miss me at your dinner, but she might at hers.”
A week later, Michener received a handwritten reply from the understanding Ike: “In his lifetime a man lives under fifteen or sixteen presidents, but a really fine teacher comes into his life but rarely. Go and speak at your teacher’s dinner.”
Teaching is the highest calling. Parents entrust their most precious treasures to teachers. Almost everybody who is anybody was taught to be somebody by a teacher. Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.
America is a nation of teachers: The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in their 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook, counts 6,085,000 teachers in the United States. This includes 3,954,000 pre-kindergarten-to-twelfth-grade teachers, 459,000 special education teachers, and 1,672,000 postsecondary professors and instructors.
Teachers are not only a populous group across our land. They change the lives of our young people. In What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell states, “Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a bad school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher.” Study after study shows that great teaching is the most important booster of student achievement of larger consequence than class size, money spent, the school building, and quality of textbooks.
One of my favorite newspaper corrections reads: “It was incorrectly reported last Friday that today is T-shirt Appreciation Week. It is actually Teacher Appreciation Week.” In 1985, the National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association set aside the first full week in May as a time to honor teachers and show respect for their profession. In fact, every day should be devoted to teacher appreciation and made a time to recognize members of the most unheralded, labor-intensive, multitasking, exhausting, income-challenged, and rewarding of all professions.
I believe that an apple lasts a short time in the hands of a teacher, but a bit of wisdom lasts a lifetime in the mind and heart of a student. I believe that teachers deserve the nice things people say about them. Having been an English teacher (an inmate in the House of Correction) for twenty-eight years, I’m biased of course. To George Bernard Shaw’s mean sneer, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches,” I would oppose Lee Iacocca’s “In a truly rational world, the best of us would be teachers, and the rest of us would do something else.”
Or I would quote Shaw himself: “To me the sole hope of human salvation lies in teaching.”
Blessed be the teachers. Harmonies of scholars, mentors, counselors, coaches, cheerleaders, traffic controllers, judges, sculptors, artists, interior decorators, janitors, nurses, baby-sitters, comedians, clowns, tightrope walkers, acrobats, and jugglers, they march in the company of secular saints. May their tribe increase and thrive.
Richard Lederer (author and broadcaster) from his book A TRIBUTE TO TEACHERS. Marion Street Press http://www.verbivore.com