During my last three years of college, I planned to be an attorney; I even worked for a law firm part time. But right before my senior year, everything changed for me. I had spent the summer working with kids as a camp counselor, and over the course of my final year, I realized my calling was education. At the “last minute” of my college career, I turned down law school to follow my heart into public education. It was one of the best decisions of my life, and it led to a career as a teacher, principal, and superintendent before coming to TASA where I get to support and champion public education.
But it almost didn’t happen. As soon as I told people of my decision to teach, I was struck by the negative reactions. People said things like, “Why would you do that?” and “But you could do anything you want!” One dear friend even said, “You are ruining your life.”
I agree with one of those statements. I could do anything I wanted. Thankfully, I chose a career in education.
Americans get so many things right, but one thing we get wrong is the way our society treats the teaching profession. That needs to change. Our nation needs the best and brightest to serve our children, to create an educated citizenry, and to inspire the next generation of leaders and innovators.
Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy, and teachers are soldiers in the war against ignorance and apathy. By sharing their knowledge with students and teaching them skills, they perform acts of patriotism for our country. They are also nurturers and protectors; in some cases, their classrooms provide the only safe spaces that children have. In that way, they serve not only individual children, but humanity. We must celebrate our teachers and honor them much like we do our military and first responders. If our military protects us from external threats, teachers are our internal defenders, ensuring that not only each child, but our nation as a whole, has a bright future.
Countless teachers made a difference in my life, in addition to my parents, who were also teachers. My first- and second-grade teacher, Mrs. Altenhoff, taught me how to read and gave me a love of school from the beginning. Mr. Mojica, my fifth-grade teacher, instilled curiosity in us, taught us to dance, and made us feel like we were the most important people in the world.
Coaches Collier and Owens were excellent role models who coached hard through encouragement and love; Mrs. Sessoms somehow got a bunch of ninth-graders to love Shakespeare, and Mrs. Doyle taught us how to write a college-level research paper. Mr. Nicola instilled a love of democracy and citizenship in his government class, and Mr. McCleod taught us to love music and to be great human beings. The list could go on forever …
Here is the deal. Teachers can and do make a difference, and it is time America embraces teachers as the heroes they are. During this global pandemic, we are seeing once again the incredible work that teachers do. In short order, they have entirely changed the way they teach, going to remarkable lengths to ensure every child’s needs are met. Individual Zoom meetings, drive-by parades, hiding Easter eggs at their houses, giving awards at the doorstep of every senior, providing food and love and encouragement. Parents, providing support to students at home, are appreciating teachers in a much deeper way.
For these reasons and more, it is a real honor to be a supporter of #TeachersCan, an effort to thank teachers and elevate the profession led by TASA partner Raise Your Hand Texas. It provides us with an opportunity to honor and nominate teachers for prizes such as a year of free groceries from H-E-B, gas from Valero, or countless other tokens of our appreciation. It also encourages us to celebrate the profession by sharing videos and using other provided tools.
More important, #TeachersCan gives us a chance to cast the spotlight onto those who give of themselves every day and ask for so little in return. It provides an opportunity for us to publicly express the deep respect and admiration we have for teachers and the profession as a whole. Not everyone can teach.
I challenge you to nominate at least one teacher who has had an impact on your life or who you’ve seen make a difference. Mr. McCleod got my first nomination, and there are more to come. Who will be yours?