Thank A Teacher For Their Service
by Dan Camilli dancamilli.com
“Teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.”
Henry Brooks Adams
It’s autumn. The public schools across America are once again, open. It’s the perfect time of year to start a new tradition; thanking a teacher for their service. This simple, appreciative gesture has most recently been reserved almost exclusively for our military personnel who do indeed richly deserve such expressions of gratitude but then again, so do our public school teachers.
Was a time not very long ago, during the Viet Nam Era, when it was teachers who were singled out for public praise and admiration while military personnel were unjustly vilified and at times, literally spat upon. Back then, the media praised and even glamorized the work of teachers in TV shows like “Room 222” and films such as “To Sir, with Love”. Those of us of a certain age will remember the moment in “To Sir, with Love” where Lulu sings, “But how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume? It isn’t easy but I’ll try.” Well it seems of late that fewer and fewer people are even trying.
Most recently we have seen the status of teachers and military personnel completely reversed in the public consciousness. After enduring more than a decade of public vilification by demagogic politicians, high-stakes standardized test advocates and alas, more than a few for-profit, union-busting, charter school snake oil dealers, teachers now receive little gratitude and less admiration from the general public.
The military defends our nation and society but one must then ask “What exactly are they protecting?”
Are they defending a low-info, poorly informed populace incapable of critical and creative thinking? Democracy, itself depends entirely upon an educated voting public which can only exist if teachers are effective. Teachers then, can be viewed as a critical component of national defense serving to develop an informed, critically thinking society worthy of defending. Everyone, including military personnel, can thank a teacher for helping them become who they are today.
It is precisely because of their essential role as Civilizers of Civilization that the teaching profession is extended the unique protections of tenure; in order to speak truth to power, whether it be power-hungry administrators, public school bashing politicians or billionaire corporatists turned would- be “education reformers”. Teachers are the only long-term stakeholders in most school systems, since students graduate and their parent’s interest wanes and administrators are oft focused on their next promotion to another school. Tenure, however, comes with the solemn responsibility of being the “Curriculum Watchdog”, sounding the alarm when the learning environment is threatened. Little wonder that those who would privatize our schools for personal gain are mounting a relentless effort to eliminate tenure.
The public denigration of teachers as stupid, lazy and worse is a direct threat to national security. Teacher shortages are now common in many of our largest school systems and can in good part be attributed to the public demonization recently cast upon this most noble profession. Who, after all, would be motivated to stake out a career in a field that is held in such low public regard? A low paying, long hours, occupation which sees its’ few tangible benefits such as tenure and pensions constantly threatened. We forfeit our nation’s future by disrespecting teachers.
Honoring and thanking teachers is a characteristic shared by great cultures through all of history. It is a distinctive quality of civil societies and a critical measure which differentiates them from barbarity. Some years ago, as a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Scholarship recipient studying and teaching in China, I was presented with a tee shirt which read in Mandarin, “A Teacher for a day is like a parent for a lifetime.” A Chinese proverb which succinctly expresses their culture’s high regard and esteem for teaching and teachers.
Throughout human history, teachers have been charged with and heralded for their critical role as Civilizers of Civilization. The ancient Greek city-states of Sparta and Athens provide further insight into the consequences of our cultural perceptions of teachers. Sparta, much like present-day American culture, also paid public tribute to the soldier more than the teacher and their legacy is little more than the ruins of their barracks. In contrast, the citizens of Athens honored the teacher and learning and left us with the foundational cornerstones of Western Civilization- defining the disciplines of philosophy, science, theatre and even the original practice of Democracy itself. Through our individual and collective conduct, we then choose which society we wish to emulate. What we value becomes our culture’s legacy.
Alexander the Great, a famous leader and military man from the ancient world, was once asked who he was most grateful to; his parents or his teacher, Aristotle. “To my teacher”, he replied. “I am indebted to my parents for living but to my teacher for living well.”
Indeed, it was Aristotle who famously said “Those who can, do; those who understand, teach.” And those who can neither do, nor understand devalue and disrespect teachers at our society’s peril. It may seem like a small thing but we each determine by our personal behavior the kind of society we wish to live in. So today, thank a teacher for their service.
© Copyright 2016 by Dan Camilli All Rights Reserved
Award winning philosophy/history teacher Dan Camilli, The Cosmic Duffer ™ ”, is the former host of “Nature, Sport and the Spirit ” on natureschannel.fm radio and author of “Tee Ceremony: A Cosmic Duffer’s ™ Companion to the Ancient Game of Golf ” available at Amazon. Visit dancamilli.com for columns, blogs, podcasts and more.