Career teachers strengthen education capacity
It’s June. Another school year comes to an end. Joy, regrets, successes, new friends, new skills, a broader world view, frustrations, fears, failures—it’s a complicated mix of emotions.
When I was young, this festive moment—the end of the daily grind, early to rise and early to bed, controlling my temper, paying attention, books, pencils, chalk—was accompanied by this joyous chant, “School's out, school's out, teacher let her bloomers out.”
For teachers it is a well-earned respite from the ever-increasing pressures to produce results, and the growing distrust and disrespect for their crucial role in shaping our future. This year, 19 seasoned Cleveland Heights-University Heights teachers, who have dedicated their careers to the education of our children, will walk out of their classrooms for the last time. A community asset of immeasurable value—developed over time—will be lost forever.
While it is easy to blame teachers for problems in our schools, it doesn’t hold up when you think about these familiar stalwarts of innovation and excellence in our buildings: Betsy Neylon, Belinda Farrow, Gary Swidar, Kathy Gill, Glenn Brackens, Sue Hood, Kathy Pahys, Diane Ferri, Lorraine Turner, Linda Smith Peterson, Peter Tuttle and many more! Many taught my children, used Reaching Heights grants to improve learning and pushed children to learn in new ways.
Over their careers, they developed and honed the complex skills needed to manage large groups of young people, inspire a diverse set of learners, differentiate their teaching to connect to the specific individuals who populated their classrooms and respond to the hearts and minds that were put in their care by parents who want the best for their children. They created safe and respectful mini-communities within the walls of our schools.
Teachers are the core resource of our education system, and there is no shortcut to re-creating within new teachers the accumulated experiences and wisdom that reside within our seasoned professionals. Good teachers are always becoming better teachers. They are always learning and improving and finding what works. Every year they invest in teaching represents growth in the capacity of the education system to deliver. It takes a career to build an accomplished educator.
As a community and a society, we are fortunate that there are creative, patient, gifted people who make teaching their profession and their life's work. Together they are a force for good. It is time to recognize teachers for their remarkable work and support them in becoming their best.
It is hard for me to understand the thinking that has infected education policy and made blaming teachers a substitute for improving education. Legislators continue to propose irrational and unacceptable teacher-evaluation schemes designed to catch teachers being bad, rather than using our greatest education resource to make schools great.
My worry is that the policy environment will discourage goodhearted people from making teaching their life’s work. How can they put up with the abuse from ideologues who distrust anything that is public?
Trust, respect, high expectations, strong support, adequate resources for doing the job, fair pay and having a voice are what make teaching an attractive career. These ideas are missing from public policy.
Thirty years from now I wonder how many veteran teachers will be retiring from a satisfying career because we knew how to support them in bringing out the best in our children. This is a dangerous time for public education and democracy.
As teachers release our children to the freedom of summer, we can compensate in small ways for the failures of our elected officials by reaching out to our educators. Express your gratitude and respect. Write that note. Make that call. Say goodbye. Let them know their work is crucial to a positive future. We need them to stay at this work, continue to build their skills and keep replenishing the wellspring of learning that career educators bring to the classroom and retiring teachers take with them.
Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights, former director of Reaching Heights, and serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.