If you’re a parent, grandparent or caretaker, you know how important the first day of school is. Regardless of if your child is enrolling kindergarten or beginning their senior year in high school, having a good start to the academic year makes all the difference.
Take a kindergarten classroom, for instance. An ambiance on the first day that invites exploration, excitement and a feeling of safety can erase the difficulty of a parental good bye. When I was a superintendent, I marveled at the organization and attention to detail our kindergarten teachers displayed as they tried to ensure their students started off right.
In fact, in all four districts where I served, it was typical for teachers to spend many days getting their classrooms ready, to ensure the new year began in a positive way. A great start in kindergarten can set children on a positive path of learning that stays with them, always. On the other hand, the repercussions of a poor start in kindergarten are difficult to erase (but not impossible).
Kindergarten, and pre-school, are opportunities for children to learn to play with classmates and make new friends. The basics that students learn, like confidently saying and writing the alphabet, are the beginning of academic success. The key to long-term achievement, in addition to support and encouragement at home, is excellent teaching and teachers who love their work and children.
Yes, the physical environment, well-equipped libraries with books and technology, as well as strong art, music and physical education programs matter greatly. Still, having spent my career in schools as a middle school teacher, principal and superintendent, I am confident teachers are the most important resource in a school district. Great principals are invaluable, too, since they set the tone for the building. And, of course, other school professionals like teacher’s aides, custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers and volunteers are crucial, as they play a key role in establishing a positive, safe environment.
Children never forget the teachers who taught them and loved them. I remember how important my second-grade teacher, Miss Talbert, was for me when I was struggling with my father’s illness. The memory of painting irises with her on one particularly difficult afternoon has been comforting and inspiring to me throughout my life. So much so that I’ve included my black iris painting from second grade in my memoir, Where the Water Meets the Sand.
I appreciate how big an impact the small moments can have in the lives of children. The majority of teachers I have known in my career went above and beyond to ensure their students had the best possible opportunities to be successful.
Yet, because of low teacher pay across the country, school teachers are protesting outside state capitols in Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arizona. They are on strike when they would prefer to be in their classrooms teaching their students.
Why do we expect teachers to work second jobs to make a livable salary? Why are they forced to strike to be heard and why are insults thrown at them because they take action, seeing no other alternative? Statistics from the Oklahoma City District verify that about twenty-five percent of their teachers leave each year. In order to start this school year, the state had to issue a record number, 1917, of emergency teaching certificates in order to have enough teachers.
I stand with teachers as they call for the resources they need to do their jobs. As a society, it’s crucial to recognize the key role that teachers play and have played in shaping all of us. Today, I encourage you to listen to “Flowers Are Red,” by Harry Chapin, and reflect on the teachers who helped you to get to where you are today. Then, I urge you to think about how you can show your support for the people who are responsible for taking care of our future.
(c) Tyra Manning 2018