Live and Learn

It’s time we gave thanks to all the great teachers in our lives.

Adauto Araujo | dreamstime

Times are tough all around, but I can’t imagine how hard it must be right now to be a teacher in Memphis. I come from a family of teachers, and as an English literature major in college, soon found out that the general assumption was for me to become one as well, considering the ever-dwindling options for those pursuing liberal arts. But the pressure of creating lesson plans and commanding the attention of a room full of screaming kids all day was a prospect far too terrifying to consider, even for a second.

Little did I know that those would have been the very least of my worries. These days, teachers have to put up with overzealous administrators, the threat of violence from over-stimulated and desensitized children, and legislation like “No Child Left Behind,” with its dubious feasibility and the questionable fairness of its goals and time frames. And they still have to beg and scrounge for their jobs. 

Last month, in the midst of all the school district rigmarole, Memphis City Schools laid off 33 teachers well into the school year, just prior to fall break. And leading up to the major lay-off, the two sections of physics available at Ridgeway High School were dissolved, offered instead as an online course and lab that students would be required to take after school, and at their own risk, with no teacher to guide them. 

That school is also the sole entity within MCS that offers an International Baccalaureate, a distinguished and universally accepted diploma. Thankfully, the University of Memphis has offered to provide Ridgeway students with two professors and an undergraduate student assistant five days a week at no cost, through the U Teach program, established at the university so that math and science students can obtain simultaneous education degrees. 

But as with the casualties of budget cuts and a drop in enrollment noted in early September, these teachers have every right to be angry. They chose their livelihoods in educating other people’s children, developing their understanding of the world around them, and nurturing their talents, and they should be able to teach wherever they want. 

In a better world, any surplus of teachers would be celebrated with smaller classrooms and a more concentrated learning experience. Instead, kids across the city will be forced to readjust to an unfamiliar face and different teaching style, while those terminated try to figure out how to pay their bills. The system is worse than unfair, it’s reprehensible. And if these kids are keeping their eyes and ears open, I’d bet they’ll think twice about becoming teachers themselves. How much better off will we be then?

Teachers shoulder the responsibility and ultimate burden of test score standards, rigorous administrative evaluation, broken family units, and all the problems inherent to growing up, while attempting to maintain normal lives; they daily care for hungry kids, kids without clean clothes, kids who have never seen anyone succeed. And they certainly don’t do it for the money. They do it for the love of these children and out of the sheer kindness of their hearts. We ask everything of them and offer nothing but contempt in return.

My mother teaches kindergarten to kids who come to school in the morning with no backpacks or no warm coats in the dead of winter, and no way to afford them, so she goes and buys some, because no one else will. My best friend taught immigrants how to speak English and helped them earn a GED, while trying to ease their fears about the many instances of unkindness they would encounter just going about their business, for the wage of a low-paid factory worker. 

My sister taught high school to the impoverished population of Hollandale, Mississippi, and over the course of imparting a love of Shakespeare to her drama students, protected a girl who got jumped by five other students, and received death threats for counting a kid tardy. Many of them still keep in touch with her, as their mentor and champion, and she is always overjoyed to hear of their success. 

Teachers are the very foundation of our society, taking on what the rest of us won’t be bothered with, and it’s time they gained some appreciation in the form of actual support. We’ve all had that one teacher who really got through to us, inspired us to know more and become better people. To turn those teachers away is to refute knowledge, no matter the budget situation. 

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