Every time I turn around, another teachers’ strike begins. The issues never change–higher wages, better benefits, smaller class sizes, expanded book and supply budgets.

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People in charge never get the message, do they?

Yet dollars can’t fix everything.

The profession is plagued by a pervasive negative attitude. While usually unspoken, I heard it loud and clear once, and I can’t forget it.

It happened at a mandatory dinner at a private school where board members, faculty, and spouses would share a kumbaya experience over chicken and cake. A board member and spouse headed each table of eight to ten.

After introductions, our particular host regaled us with tales of his recent trip to the Far East where he purchased handmade suits and shirts for a song. He stood to show off the intricacies of fine tailoring. But that wasn’t all. He gloried in the jewelry he bought for his wife and reached over for her arms–displaying exquisite diamond rings and bracelets. He urged us all to save vast amounts of money by shopping in Asia.

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We kept shoveling in the chicken, making no comment.

But we had plenty of thoughts, mind you, wearing no custom-crafted or be-jeweled anything.435003a38bfa1274b568b6ae9628443b

Suddenly murmurs and scooting chairs happened across the room. Our board host raced over, knelt down, and quickly returned. As he passed the neighboring table, he stopped that rising board member and said, “It’s just a teacher.”

Thank goodness, I guess, that the choking victim (who was rescued by a nurse married to a teacher at that table) wasn’t one of their mighty own.

I re-live that shocking moment every time another strike breaks out. I read the heartfelt poster slogans about the value of teachers, but I know all too well the purse strings are held by people like that arrogant host, people who devalue teachers by tossing a few dollars at them when publicly shamed.

Yet, who has gotten anywhere without an inspiring teacher?

My senior English teacher Mrs. Schick asked me to stop by after class one day. She told me that I had exceptional writing skill and that I didn’t have to do the essay assignments she gave the class. She told me instead to submit any piece of writing that mattered to me because she thought I had talent. She believed I could write professionally.

I did indeed.

And, yes, Mrs. Schick, according to that board member, was “just a teacher.”

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10 thoughts on “Just a Teacher

  1. Having been ” just a teacher” for over 40 years, this post hit a particularly responsive chord in me. Mostly it made me feel glad that hopefully more than one former student will or has spoken of me as you do your senior English teacher. It’s just a lovely tribute worth remembering this day and for many days to come.

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    1. I remind you that some former students do remember you well. Along with that, consider all the teachers you inspired when you were their principal. They acknowledge becoming better teachers by following your lead. Look at how many reach out to you for advice and recommendations in their job searches. To this very day, they appreciate your heartfelt counsel because they believe you were always on their side for all the right reasons. You supported them, often despite the attitudes of those above you.

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  2. Inspirational……6th grade teacher Mr. Romanski taught us the poem “Abou Ben Adhem” by Leigh Hunt, that I remember to this day, 60 years later. Science teacher, Mr. Ryan fostered my budding love of science in 7th and 8th grades. Thomas FX Casey, my high school history teacher, wrote in my yearbook with tongue in cheek, “To the best science student in history class” (he would be proud today to see my genuine interest in history). Dr. David Proctor, Physics professor, mentored me all through college and Alla Ladyzhensky, my Russian professor who was so warm and nurturing that I chose her to sit in on my oral exams for my physics major in my senior year.

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  3. A tremendous tribute to exceptional teachers from all levels of education. What a disservice that, I can assume, they taught for peanuts. And the salary travesty continues, with countless teachers now working part-time weekend and summer jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. Surgeons never strike for more bandages and scalpels, do they? We left Oklahoma for Wisconsin, where Cliff immediately received $12,000 more for the same elementary teaching position.

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  4. “Just a teacher”?!? Sometimes I think I’ve lost my capacity to feel indignant. (There’s so much to feel indignant about.) But that got me. I read the passage repeatedly, and tried to figure out how the speaker meant those words. Dark humor, perhaps? An attempt to relieve tension with a sick joke? But it doesn’t matter what the speaker intended, it’s inexcusable.

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    1. Although you’ve tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, I think his meaning was clear–There are people in this room who matter, and there are people who don’t. If you asked him about his reasoning for urging us to shop in Asia, I think he would have said that he was being helpful. There was a famous anecdote about a board meeting that happened at the school where you and I met. They decided that faculty salaries would be frozen for the upcoming contract year. One member stated that times were hard for everyone, and that he even had to cancel his purchase for a yacht. That headmaster (not the one that I knew) pulled out his handkerchief and dramatically sobbed into it for effect.

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