Dear teachers- past, present and future:

Thank you.

I am not a teacher, but I work in an elementary school, and the one thing I take home every day is the knowledge that I could never do what you do. You are in your classrooms before I show up at 7:30, you’re still there when I leave at 4:00, and I know you still have papers to grade and lessons to plan when you finally do make it home.

I only tutor one student at a time, but every work day feels like an improvised performance that I can’t afford to mess up. Lesson plans are great and all, until the student decides not to cooperate, or doesn’t respond to any of the fifty learning strategies you’ve brainstormed for them. I cannot imagine what it’s like to spend all day in front of thirty minds, many of which don’t care to learn, or simply have too many other problems to be able to keep up with the standards that have been handed down to you from the suits in Tallahassee.

It infuriates me to hear people talk about public education, and those who would work in the field, as a moral vacuum that takes in bright, inquisitive students and twelve years later spits out mindless, godless slaves to the establishment. I have heard too many people question the motives of teachers, and suggest that the only valid way to educate our children is to homeschool them or put them in private religious schools. I have seen you get caught too many times in the political battle for the budget, as if your $40,000 a year salaries had anything to do with our nation’s economic problem.

I will be the first to admit that there are flaws in our educational system, some of them deep and painful, and all of them needing serious fixing as soon as possible.

But, by God, do I love everything that the public school system represents.

At its most basic, it’s a commitment by our society to make sure that every child can have access to an education, even if their parents don’t have the time or money to homeschool them or pay for their education themselves. At its finest (which I was lucky enough to experience in the International Baccalaureate Programme), it brings bright young minds together and challenges them to see the world in new and exciting ways. Far from being indoctrinated by public schools, I learned how to examine the world critically and to think for myself.

And the teachers? The college graduates who chose to give up all hope of wealth, prestige, or career advancement in order to give our country’s future a fighting chance? Those professionals who are overworked, underpaid, and seriously undervalued, but who spend every day trying against all odds to pass on their spark, their love of learning, to the next generation? I can’t think of a religion in the world that would turn its back on those values, and if one exists, then it’s not worth its spiritual salt.

I wish to God that I had the strength and perseverance do what you do everyday. My passion is for education, and while I’m very excited about the prospect of pursuing that passion in higher education, I hate that it takes a PhD and a tenured position as a professor to earn respect, job security, and a decent living as an educator.

So thank you. From the bottom of my heart.  I see what you deal with: the parents who just won’t listen, the money that stretches too thin, the miracles you’re expected to work with behavior problems, the stress of testing weeks, and I just want you to know how grateful I am for you.

From the seasoned veteran of the classroom to the college student who is still pursuing this career despite the budget cuts, end of tenure, and general lack of public respect:

You are my heroes.