Teachers hear it everywhere they go: “You only work nine months a year, seven hours a day. You’ve got it made!” When they hear this, I’m sure they react as I do when people tell me, “You only report the bad news.” I’m sure it seems that way, but it isn’t true.
As teachers will tell you, their workday often extends well beyond seven hours, and summer days are often filled with professional development, new curriculum training, and classroom renovations.
Also, most of us don’t have to buy supplies out of our own pocket to do our jobs. I’m in TV news, and I’ve never spent a dime on copy paper, cameras, microphones, or anything else I need to do my job. Teachers routinely furnish their classroom with the necessities of daily life: maps, file folders, hand wipes, markers and more. Some lucky teachers get a yearly allowance to help with supplies, but most tell me that money is used up by the time the leaves change colors.
Is every teacher perfect? Of course not. Are there bad teachers out there? Oh yes, just as there are bad bank tellers, brick layers and journalists. If the system works as it should, poor teachers are eventually weeded out, and sent to seek a profession for which they are better qualified.
But as we begin this school year, now is a good time to celebrate teachers who go above and beyond. Most teachers aren’t in it for the money, the summer vacations, or any other worldly benefit.
I’ll even name names: Dr. Charles Mitchell, the 35-year-old assistant principal of Brainerd High School in Chattanooga, grew up as poor as dirt. His father was in prison, and his mother was unable to provide for the family. He survived a house fire, and lived in shelters during much of his youth. Many of the boys he grew up with have been in and out of jail. “I might be too,” he said, “if not for one man.” Julian Kaufman was a teacher and coach at Hixson High School in the 1990s. Coach Kaufman made sure Charles always had a ride to school, and to football practice. When Charles was about to give up on classwork, his Coach convinced him he was as smart as everybody else. “Coach Kaufman was my mentor, even though I didn’t know the meaning of the word. Now I do, and I want to be that mentor for my students today. We just need more men to step up and help.” He devotes every moment of his spare time helping young people, as Coach Kaufman did for him.
There’s Mandy Love, a second-grade teacher at East Side Elementary in Chattanooga. Fifteen of her nineteen students are Hispanic. Many of them speak better English than their parents, and must help them learn American ways and customs. The oldest children in their families have to grow up quickly, helping raise their younger siblings. They never get to go to tourist attractions or ball games, so she devotes many after-school hours to those activities. When she took a group of five second-graders to a Chattanooga Lookouts game, they squealed in delight when a foul ball came their way. To their amazement, they didn’t have to throw it back to the players! “It was one of life’s little moments they’ll never forget,” she told me. “I’m so lucky to be able to provide it for them.”
She’s like many teachers who don’t go around bragging about it, but she also makes sure her students get treats for Halloween, presents at Christmas, and get to hunt eggs at Easter. Needless to say, the money for these endeavors comes from her own pocket.
And there’s Juanita Foster, the 81-year-old special education teacher at Rossville Middle School. That is not a misprint. She is 81, and starting her 59th year in the classroom. I asked what keeps her going. She didn’t hesitate. “I love children,” she said. “Isn’t that enough?” She takes pride in keeping up with modern technology, teaching class with her computer, her iPad and her iPhone. She has promised to help me learn how to use my devices.
These are just a few stories about teachers, past and present, who don’t toot their own horns. I heard about them from parents and students, and I am glad to share their stories. Believe me, there are many more just like them. Don’t wait to read about them somewhere. Tell a teacher how much you love them today.