One of the best parts of my job is meeting National Board Certified Teachers across the country, usually at ceremonies held to honor their accomplishment. On these occasions, I get to thank them for what they do for our children.
Every day teachers go into classrooms with knowledge, skills, and commitment to do work that is arguably the most complex and unpredictable that anyone does anywhere. They work with children who fall across a wide developmental spectrum and who come from families who fall across an equally wide spectrum of situations. They do this work within a system that makes a difficult job nearly impossible with at least three layers of bureaucracy – federal, state, and local – telling them what to do. Moreover, the expectations of these government levels can change in an instant. Engineers and architects, doctors and lawyers – none of them are subjected to the kind of policy whiplash we visit upon teachers.
Teachers do this work of promoting learning – which is a distinctly individual experience – to groups of students. Lawyers don’t defend 30 felony cases all in the same courtroom; doctors don’t treat all people with flu-like symptoms at 9:00, and then move on to those with lacerations at 10:00. But that is the basic structure under which teachers work. As Charlotte Danielson says, “What doctors do, we call tutoring.”
And then there is the society writ large which blames teachers for what goes wrong in our culture and especially our economy, and, at best, takes teachers for granted when things go well. I heard my old boss Ted Sizer tell a group once that society had been quick to point an accusatory finger at teachers and schools during the bad economic times of the 1980’s, but he found it curious that no one was giving the schools any credit when the economy was booming in the 1990’s.
While all of this bothers teachers – and it should – they keep at it. They don’t lose sight of their job, its complexity, and its importance. Their commitment may bow at times, but it almost never breaks.
We hear how in those countries that are the highest performers in the world, teachers are seen as “nation builders.” Actually, teachers are nation builders in every country. The question is: What kind of a nation are they building? Teachers in the United States are creating the country we will be in the future. How they are prepared and supported, how we treat them as professionals, and how we thank them – all of that has a profound impact on what they can do for our children.
Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. has said that “The most important thing we do in America is teach our children.” If he’s right – and I’m certain he is – then the second most important thing is how we support our teachers and how we thank them.
For more information about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, visit www.nbpts.org