I can’t really explain why but there was always something about schools that kept me interested.
Somewhere along my public school path, I became one of the students who was allowed to help out with my teachers more than others.
Maybe I was a “teacher’s pet,” but I always enjoyed staying behind after those half-day test days and eating lunch with them, helping grade papers and even playing some heated games of “Scrabble.”
In time I became good friends with all of my former teachers and, with their encouragement and support, it wasn’t too long after I graduated from high school that I ran for our local school board.
Those were some of the best days of my life and quite possibly the best education I ever got.
During that time, I was probably the most involved board member our staff had ever seen. I just simply liked being in the schools.
I wasn’t there to get in the way, and made every attempt not to be. I was there to learn how we could make things better for the teachers and their students, and listen to both.
Every National Education Week during the four years I served on the board, I always made it a point to have the principals pick 10 students at random and let me sit in a classroom with them.
Being I was only 19 at the time, the age gap was very narrow, which made the conversation gap very narrow, leading to very blunt and realistic ideas being offered.
I would always pass those ideas along to our staffs and more often than not they were enthusiastically accepted by our teachers, helping to make learning better for both them and their students.
I like to think because of my advocacy to hear the opinions of students, the Tennessee School Board Association created SCOPE — the Student Congress on Public Education.
Students from all over the state are selected to participate each year and debate the same issues teachers, administrators and school boards must face.
If you think that’s a fool’s fancy, it’s amazing how much harder the younger generation is on themselves than you might suspect.
At the most recent SCOPE meeting, 65 percent disagreed with prohibiting corporal punishment and 68 percent expressed the view that students should be required to complete 48 hours of community service during their junior and senior years prior to graduation.
Being able to work both with and for both sides of the classroom desk, it made my admiration of the institution of education even greater.
It even inspired me to proceed with my desire to become an educator.
That idea came to a crashing end when I was assigned as a student-teacher for a third-grade class.
I quickly found those kids were smarter than I was, and also quickly learned what an art and a gift it is to be a good teacher.
The idea may have ended but the ideal of being a teacher became even more real to me.
There is an old idiom recommending one “walk a mile in my shoes.”
For all of the teachers out there, I did it.
I discovered you are all heroes.
Some would say that title doesn’t fit someone who just stands in a classroom all day talking to kids.
Those who think that really should think again.
Today’s teachers are not able to just teach anymore. The new world has forced them to be versatile in so many ways.
They must be teacher, advisor, counselor, referee, nurse, enforcer, accountant, technician and, sadly in many cases, parent.
A good teacher doesn’t just clock in and clock out. They are there before hours, after hours and even after they hit their own door.
Teachers continuously sacrifice time with their own families to help nurture their classroom families.
They sacrifice money, making far less than they could by offering their expertise to business and industry and very often take from their own pockets to enhance their own classrooms.
Sadly, the society of today has also made them sometime targets, and there are those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by quite literally protecting future generations.
It has been almost a year to the day four teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and they were not the first nor the last.
Last month, a Massachusetts high school teacher was found murdered, apparently by a disturbed student.
So, I repeat my refrain that teachers are true heroes in every respect.
They teach, love and inspire on a daily and hourly basis and we are a better world because they are willing to make sacrifices many would never entertain the thought of having to make.
A good teacher is one of the most sincere and dedicated professionals you will ever encounter.
This year’s National Education Week was a few weeks ago.
If you didn’t do it then, do it now: Go and thank a teacher.
The late newsman Charles Kuralt perhaps said it all best:
“When we become a really mature, grown-up, wise society, we will put teachers at the center of the community where they belong. We don’t honor them enough. We don’t pay them enough.”