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Fresh Ideas: Ode to teachers

Lisa Keating

Emily Keating passed away last week: Longtime Carson City resident, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and my aunt. She retired from Carson City School District after 30 years of teaching, and by my estimates, helped educate more than 1,000 Carson City residents during that time. Two of her five children went on to be career-long teachers in Northern Nevada, and, now, one of her granddaughters is a local teacher.

At 90 years of age at the time of her death, Aunt Emily went to college at a time when becoming a teacher was one of only a few career choices available to women. She was highly intelligent, and in today’s world, could have qualified for any career she wanted. Would she still have chosen teaching today?

As the mother of two school-aged children, my daughters will each spend 1,170 hours with their teachers this year. My third grader will learn multiplication and division, cursive writing, keyboarding, the basics of biology, she’s writing her first book report, and is starting to read chapter books. My seventh grader will learn beginning algebra, life science, world geography, and will write her first persuasive speech. This is pretty incredible when you think about what happens in one school year. It’s even more daunting when you think about how these lessons are the building blocks for skills they are going to rely upon for their lifetime.

I’m placing my trust in their teacher’s hands.

Across the country, though, there’s a shortage of teachers and cities are fraught with finding qualified teachers to fill classrooms. Teachers for math, science and special education are particularly hard to find. In the next five years, 500,000 new teachers will be needed to fill spots as current teachers retire or leave the field; current rates of students entering the teaching profession are not enough to replace retiring teachers.

I fear our country has under appreciated the profession of teaching. Now we are seeing the outcome.

A new study by the University of Maryland found “high-performing” students are much less likely to consider teaching than ever before. In 1964, 21 percent of high-achieving students considered teaching for a profession. In 2000, only 11 percent did. This study also found 14 percent of teachers leave their post in the first year of teaching, 45 percent by their fifth year of teaching. Dr. Caroline Hoxby, Professor of Economics at Harvard found the main reason teachers’ site for leaving the field is, “being under prepared and under appreciated.” Randi Weingarten, president of the Federation of Teachers, remarked, “We are asking today for teachers to be a combination of Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, Mom and Dad. We judge their success by standardized tests. They teach in a ‘pressure cooker’ without proper support, resources, time or respect to do their job … we are in a ‘test and punish’ fixation, with high stakes test preparation eclipsing teaching and learning … it has sucked the creativity and joy out of the classroom.”

If we continue down this road, where does that leave our children and grandchildren’s education?

Like any profession, there are teachers with faults. The problem is, when there are faults, the damage runs down to our children, which is especially worrying to a parent. Yet, the problem with focusing on the minority of inadequate teachers, is it takes the focus off appreciating and respecting the majority of good and great teachers out there.

It’s the beginning of the school year. Appreciate what your teacher is going to teach your child this year. Help your teacher in any way you’re able. Thank him or her. Have your child thank him or her. Respect those who are educating our country’s children.

When I was at Aunt Emily’s celebration of life this weekend, fellow teachers and previous students were sprinkled amongst the pews. Perhaps that’s what inspired me to write this article: her love and respect for teaching filled the room. Her love and respect for teaching led to two more generations of teachers.

Thank you, Aunt Emily, for being a wonderful aunt. And thank you for reminding all of us there what a noble profession teaching is.

Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.