Opinion: Teachers sacrifice more than we can ever know

Second-grade teacher Anesha Williams gives Malae Tucker a hug as they gather in the gym on the first day of school at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Second-grade teacher Anesha Williams gives Malae Tucker a hug as they gather in the gym on the first day of school at Tuskegee Airmen Global Academy. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Cobb parent offers a thank-you to teachers in her life and her children’s lives

Former teacher Charis Granger-Mbugua graduated Cobb County Schools, where her young son is now a student. In this guest essay, she writes about the dedication that teachers have shown during the pandemic, as well as about the abuse they’ve suffered.

A Spelman graduate and a National Board Certified educator, Granger-Mbugua is a frequent contributor to the AJC Get Schooled blog. You can read other pieces by her here and here.

By Charis Granger-Mbugua

To know a teacher is to know a real-life hero.

I hesitate to say superhero because that would imply that teachers are somehow super-human—able to accomplish above and beyond what us mere mortals can do.

And that would not quite be entirely true.

I readily acknowledge teachers are often tasked with superhuman responsibilities—from managing a room of 20-plus “spirited” kindergartners to mending the broken hearts of their most sensitive and vulnerable students.

They must teach core subjects like math, science, and English, while simultaneously instructing on how to take turns, be kind, and question the world around us.

Most teachers, more often than not, rise to the occasion with grace and love. Yet what is frequently forgotten is that they are also real people, with real families, and real experiences of their own.

As this unprecedented school year draws to a close, and students and parents alike pause to celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week, I am compelled to take stock of what teachers across this country and right in my son’s own school have accomplished this school year.

It is both unbelievable and awe-inspiring.

No other job, besides that of a parent, perhaps, has as much impact and influence on the life of an individual than that of a teacher.

Charis Granger-Mbugua
Charis Granger-Mbugua

Despite this sacred and consequential duty, teachers, sadly, are often on the receiving end of our collective criticism and frustration.

The hotly contested debate over the reopening of school buildings this academic year is just one of the most recent examples of how easily teachers become proverbial punching bags, as politicians and teachers’ unions grapple with difficult and sometimes impossible decisions.

This time last year, most people were glad to sing the praises of teachers, as schools shuttered, and learning shifted online.

However, it was not long before many of those same voices demanded teachers stop complaining and get back to work--failing to acknowledge that the work never stopped for teachers, even when the world seemingly did. In fact, the work got significantly harder.

It is easy to use teachers as scapegoats when so much around us seems to be falling apart. Certainly, a global pandemic qualifies as a true indicator of things falling apart. But through it all, each one of us has leaned heavily on teachers to help us not only instruct our children in academics, but also to sustain our very society. Without teachers, essential services could not be provided, our economy would collapse, and our children would miss countless opportunities to be nurtured and supported by qualified men and women who truly live to see them thrive.

No teachers I have ever known considers themselves a savior. In fact, many regularly credit their students as being teachers, in their own right.

As a former secondary English teacher, I can attest to learning so much from my students. I learned resilience from my beautiful seventh grade student, a Syrian refugee, who fought to survive. I was reminded of the importance of compassion by a thoughtful and soft-spoken ninth grader, who willingly took on added responsibilities at home, so that his working mother could rest. I learned the power of optimism and hope from countless high school seniors, eager to step boldly into the unknown and discover the world and find their place in it.

These are lessons I will forever hold in my heart.

As we celebrate teachers this week, here are three truths to remember about why teachers deserve not only our admiration, but our support, in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

Teachers sacrifice more than we can ever fully know

My son’s teacher text me on a sunny Saturday afternoon to inquire about him. She didn’t have to do that, but her effort to invest in and get to know my son, never goes unnoticed.

From the financial sacrifice to sacrificing time with their own children, teachers are constantly giving of themselves for the betterment of their students.

I applaud Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Board of Education for approving the plan to pay each Georgia teacher a $1,000 bonus. There should be no question that they are beyond deserving. But let us not believe, for one moment, that that money can adequately repay our teachers for the unbelievable sacrifices they make, especially in a year like this one. Many teachers were tasked with managing a classroom in person and online, while still being held to the highest standards. To say that this year was hard, would be an understatement. But teachers met the challenge, and our children are better for it.

The love teachers feel for their students is real

As a parent, I know how important it is for my children to have a network of safe adults who care about their well-being.

As a teacher, I know how deeply we care for our students as they navigate life. I have rejoiced with them as they graduated high school and college, gotten married, and had children and families of their own. I have wept at candlelight vigils and funerals for my students whose lives were taken too soon. The pain is unbearable.

The love of a teacher can inspire a child to greatness. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Teachers are gatekeepers to our future success as a country and world

It is often said that good teachers are responsible for every successful person. Whether a child becomes a neurosurgeon or a basketball star, a teacher will stand in front of him or her and dare that child to dream big.

I am reminded of Lois Lowry’s classic dystopian novel “The Giver when I consider the power of a teacher to shape the world and our future. In the book, the character of The Giver holds all the memories of a community. The Giver must teach the protagonist, Jonas, how to access those memories and understand those memories. It is only when Jonas learns about the past, both the good and the bad, that he becomes fully equipped to face the future and help his people find their way.

A teacher, in my opinion, is much like the character of the Giver. They hold so much and give so much. They are the gatekeepers to our future. Through their tireless work, they ensure that students, our children, can march boldly into the future. They help prepare them to make this world a better place.

And for that I will be eternally grateful.

So, to my former colleagues and friends, some of the greatest teachers I know, I continue to be in awe of you.

To the teachers in my own children’s lives, your commitment to your craft is incredible. I could not have done this last school year without you.

And to every teacher being celebrated this week, your work, your sacrifice, and your love matter more than you can ever know. Words will never be enough--but thank you.

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