by Dina Martin
Courtesy of AMAE
As thousands of California teachers prepare to celebrate the 32nd annual Day of the Teacher on May 14 this year, they might look back to its origins in Mexico and Latin America, where teachers have been honored with a day of their own for almost a century.
That’s what inspired Galal Kernahan, a retired CTA staffer, journalist and teacher who taught graduate school in Argentina. Remembering the Día del Maestro celebrations and recognizing the ties between California and Mexico, Kernahan took the lead in helping CTA establish Day of the Teacher in California.
“It was a chance to build bridges, take advantage of what you can learn from other cultures and bring it here,” says Kernahan, who was struck by the deference and respect shown to teachers in Mexico.
As Kernahan describes it in an oral history segment he did for CTA’s 150th anniversary, he just walked in the door of state Sen. Joseph Montoya’s office in 1981 and said, “We oughta do this.” He recalls that Montoya told him to “write it up, but it can’t cost any money.”
Thus was born California’s first Day of the Teacher in 1982.
The growing Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) got involved and co-sponsored SB 1546, the legislation that established Day of the Teacher.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better in terms of interest and support,” Kernahan says of the relationship CTA forged with AMAE.
These days, AMAE sponsors its own poster contest in which it puts out a call for artists. The winner receives $1,000.
“This year, our theme is ‘Your Dreams Become Our Future — Sus Sueños Son Nuestro Futuro,’” explains Christina Valadez, AMAE president and Santa Maria Elementary Education Association member.
Day of the Teacher is always observed the second Wednesday in May. This year’s theme is “California Teachers: Inspiring our students, strengthening our communities.” It’s a great opportunity for CTA chapters to reach out to local organizations and businesses to strengthen that connection with our communities.
“All teachers deserve encouragement and recognition. We are talking about something profoundly human and essential when we talk about education,” says Kernahan. “It’s that side of the profession that needs to be emphasized. I’d like to recommend that Day of the Teacher be most enthusiastically, persistently and thoroughly celebrated by teachers themselves.”
Noting that teachers teach by example, Kernahan recommends that teachers themselves seek out the educators who made a difference in their lives and thank them.
Now 88, Kernahan still takes Day of the Teacher seriously. Each year, he requests copies of the CTA poster, which he then brings to local libraries and businesses for posting. He plans to do the same this year.
Why has he made this such a commitment?
“First you start with teaching,” he says. “That profession is a pillar of society, and the hopes for the future are hinged on teaching. You don’t find that in any other profession.”
Find California Day of the Teacher resources at www.cta.org/dayoftheteacher.
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