What does Day of the Teacher mean to you?
Mr. Chavez was my fourth-grade teacher at El Rancho Elementary School in Chino. He could find the gift that every kid had, and he was open to everyone, not just those who were best behaved or smartest or got their work done. He genuinely connected with students… and I needed that connection. I needed someone who believed in me, and he was that guy.
I think of him as we celebrate California Day of the Teacher, May 8. I know that school communities all over the state — parents, administrators, students — will acknowledge the work you do in special events during that day, and I sincerely hope you take it in. We work hard, and the rewards aren’t always immediate.
But now it’s April, and many of us are getting ready for another round of tests, parent-teacher conferences, open houses, grades and graduations. Can you believe it? We’re already approaching the end of the year. And that makes me think of one of those board games we used to play as kids where we’d move our markers along the pathway through ups and downs to become the big winner at the end. Of course, the winner in our game would gain riches, rewards, and the respect of all the other players.
I hope as you go through this incredibly busy period, you take a moment or two to breathe, and to think about some of your accomplishments over the past year. It’s important, especially since we all have tendencies to focus on the things that went wrong, instead of what went right. It’s not surprising, since it’s a hallmark of our profession, to self-evaluate in order to find ways to improve our teaching. Yet how often do we stop to give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done? How often do we stop and thank a colleague or a mentor? That’s what Day of the Teacher is for.
Day of the Teacher isn’t quite as venerable as the 150-year-old CTA, but it has been going on for some 30 years now. The inspiration came from a beautiful Mexican festival, Día del Maestro, which the Association of Mexican American Educators adopted in California. Former CTA staff member Galal Kernahan first worked with state Sen. Joseph B. Montoya in 1982 to carry the legislation. Kernahan was told by the senator at the time, “Make sure that it doesn’t cost any money or it won’t have a chance this session.”
Kernahan did just that, and in fact he continues to support and promote Day of the Teacher each year by delivering our Day of the Teacher posters to libraries and businesses all over Orange County for display. What a great idea! He wants to make sure that our members proudly display these posters in their classrooms. “Teachers should be encouraged to teach by example,” he told us recently, observing it is our duty to promote the profession to the next generation.
Weaving in CTA’s 150th anniversary, this year’s Day of the Teacher theme is “California Teachers: Honoring the past, guiding the future.” I like it because that’s what we strive to do every day in our classroom with our students.
And this, CTA’s sesquicentennial year, provides us with the opportunity to look at the educators who have come before us.
I’ve read of amazing teachers and advocates, and I can tell you, I am proud to be among them. These are the folks who championed the idea that our democracy depends on free public schools; that public schools be funded through tax dollars; that teachers have a say over their profession; that they have due process rights and can’t be fired for arbitrary and capricious reasons; that they have a right to collectively bargain their contracts; that they are entitled to decent salaries and benefits; and that they are entitled to a duty-free lunch period.
So when Day of the Teacher comes around next month, take a moment to think about your own Mr. Chavez and your own accomplishments. Thank your teachers, your mentors, or someone who helped you become the amazing person you are today. And let me personally thank you for being an educator, and being part of CTA’s 150 years.