By CTA President Dean E. Vogel
Sometimes the challenges we face on a daily basis in our classrooms are so great that it’s hard to remember the rewards of our profession and the reason why we chose to be educators. That’s why it’s been a delight to read thank-you notes from students that our members have shared with us over the past few months. Letters to the “Thank You, Teacher!” project can be read online at www.cta.org/thankyouteacher, and they give us all a moment to pause and remember why we are in it and why we stay.
This month, I received a note from one of my former students, and believe me, it both surprised and deeply touched me. Rachel was a student of mine in kindergarten, and her childhood memories of my class included me playing the guitar, singing during circle time, and enforcing a rule against children playing with their Velcro shoes.
Rachel wrote, “Thank you so much for all that you did. My inner child and outer adult ever appreciate it.”
She concluded her letter by letting me know she is now in her seventh year of teaching and “couldn’t imagine being anything else but an educator.”
I felt the same pride when I went to Washington, D.C., to see Rebecca Mieliwocki, a California middle school teacher and member of the Burbank Teachers Association, honored as National Teacher of the Year during a White House ceremony.
Rebecca related that she had been working in publishing when she realized something was missing. I was struck by her comment: “I took some time to make a list of things I needed and wanted in my ‘perfect’ job: creativity, decision-making control, fun, flexibility, stability, the potential to work with young people. It dawned on me that teaching was the obvious place.”
Rachel’s note and Rebecca’s achievement served as personal reminders to me of why we do it. They are also reminders of why I became involved with my union. It was to make things better for teachers and for our students.
These days it’s hard for a teacher to turn around without feeling like she’s under attack. Many of us would prefer to retreat to our classrooms, mind our own business and just teach our students. We may not be interested in the political drama. But as the Greek statesman Pericles once said, “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
Politics directly impacts almost everything we do in our schools and in our classrooms. And many politicians and corporate power brokers behave as if they know more about the dynamics of teaching and learning than we do. Yet no one knows better than we do what our students need to be successful.
We are facing some crucial issues coming up in the November election that will test that notion. As much as we’d like to shut the door of our classrooms and just teach, we won’t be able to do that without passing a funding initiative that will begin to provide the resources to adequately fund our schools. We won’t be able to do that if our voice is silenced and our ability to participate in politics is taken away. We won’t be able to do that if we don’t elect candidates who will advocate for public education.
In the coming weeks, I know many of us will be preoccupied with year-end activities with little time to do much else than help our students and each other tie things up and move forward. But as we head into summer, I hope you take some time for yourselves to recuperate and recharge. I also hope you take some time to become involved with this campaign season. Read through this issue of the Educator, go to our website, learn about the election issues we face, and step up. For the sake of our students, and for the sake of our profession, we all need to be involved in the election ahead. If not us, who? If not now, when?