If you can read this, thank a teacher

Former middle school teacher Tom Staszewski of Erie, Pa., recently retired after a 35-year career in higher education administration. He is the author of “Total Teaching: Your Passion Makes it Happen.”

It’s time to stop blaming and criticizing teachers and start thanking and acknowledging them.

Our schools reflect society, and society has undergone a dramatic shift. Today’s classrooms contain students with behavioral problems, limited knowledge of English usage, emotional and psychological difficulties, learning disabilities and attention-deficit disorders. And many suffer from abuse and other adverse home and socioeconomic conditions.

Unlike previous generations, many parents today send their kids to school unfed, unprepared and with little or no basic skills nor social skills. In many neighborhoods, it’s the school building, not the home, that provides a safe, secure and predictable haven. Despite these societal problems, we need to focus on success stories of what’s right rather than what’s wrong with our schools.

In my previous work as a motivational speaker and professional development trainer, I worked with thousands of teachers nationwide. I found them to be caring, hardworking, dedicated, industrious and committed to the success of their students. Teachers’ duties have grown to encompass the added dimensions of counselor, mentor, coach, resource person, mediator, motivator, enforcer and adviser.

Instead of acknowledging that teaching is a demanding profession, critics often focus on the supposedly shortened workday of teachers. Still others claim, “Yes, teachers are busy, but at least they get a planning period each day to help get things done.”

A typical teacher is so involved with the day’s activities that usually there is no time to stop and plan. Those minutes that are supposed to be devoted to planning are often filled with endless amounts of paperwork, meetings, interruptions, schedule changes, extra assigned duties, phone calls, conferences, gathering missed work for absent students, completing forms, submitting required data and on and on.

Maybe they call it a planning period, because there’s no time left for planning — period! Most teachers leave the building long after students’ dismissal time and usually with plenty of paperwork and tests to correct.

Some parents have a notion they can drop off their child at the schoolhouse door and behold, 12 years later, they will pick up a perfect specimen of a human being — well-rounded, academically proficient, emotionally sound, physically fit and ready to meet the next phase of life.

But teachers cannot do it alone. A sound, safe and secure home life is essential. An effort on a parent’s part to prepare a child for school is vital. And parental involvement that results in a partnership in the child’s development is necessary. When that doesn’t occur, it’s easy to scapegoat the classroom teacher.

Instead of bashing our teachers, we should be conveying recognition, accolades, tributes and positive acknowledgments. Teachers deserve a sincere thank-you for the tremendous benefits they provide. And that’s why my all-time favorite bumper sticker offers a profound and important declaration: “If you can read this … thank a teacher!”

There are thousands of success stories waiting to be told in our schools, and there’s a need to proclaim those successes proudly and boldly. Teachers should stand tall and be proud of their chosen profession. Critics should not judge them unfairly. Together, let’s become teacher advocates and show admiration for the inspiring and important life-changing work they do.

After all, teachers make all other professions possible.