Friday, August 16, 2013

Have a Good Year, Teachers

Breakfast Friday (on Thursday) at Stax (JWB Photo)

The photo above shows my good friends Bill and Charlie, along with Bill’s son, Tim, and Tim’s significant other, Jessica, enjoying breakfast at Stax at 1401 West Taylor Street.  A great place for breakfast in Chicago . . . you won’t eat for the rest of the day after you have cleaned your plate at Stax.

Close to 25 years ago, Charlie and I, along with another good friend, Jim, began going out for breakfast on Friday.  I don’t remember how the decision was made or who came up with the idea, but for over two decades now I’ve been sitting down with a changing cast of characters every Friday for breakfast.  The latest iteration most commonly includes Bill and Charlie as you can see.

It’s a good tradition, I think.  There’s something to be said for sitting down at the end of the week and having a few laughs before heading off to complete the work week.  We’re all retired from teaching now, but back when we were working the laughs we shared over that Friday breakfast carried us through the day and, sometimes, through the next week.

Speaking of which . . . in the next week or two teachers will be returning to their classrooms, ready to face a whole new group of students.  It has been awhile, but I remember what that felt like – the heady anticipation of getting back into the game, mixed with the dread of all the planning, assignments, and grading that was to fill the fall and winter and spring.  It all comes back to me as I listen to our daughter, Kristen, talk excitedly about beginning a new school year at a new high school.

She and all of the dedicated teachers like her deserve a whole lot more credit than they get most of the time. 

A couple of days ago I was listening to The Talk in the afternoon (don’t ask), and from out of the blue the subject of school and homework came up.  After a few moments of air-headed discussion, one of the women said something to the effect of “I pay taxes for education, so why can’t these teachers teach my kids what they need to know without sending all of this homework home?”  What I think she was saying was that because she paid her taxes, she was no longer obligated to fool around with the messy process of educating her children.

To be a teacher is to work your tail off.  It’s gratifying work most of the time, and over six years away from the classroom I still can’t think of a better way to earn a living.  But it also means dealing with attitudes like the one I just mentioned every single day.

Everything is dumped on a teacher.  Somehow they must assume responsibility for expertise in their subject area as well as the ability to present that expertise in an engaging way.  They must be disciplinarians even as they model compassion. They must present the perils of substance abuse, make sure that bullying is quashed, that the responsibilities of sexual relationships are understood. 

They must somehow discourage prejudice and underscore the importance of treating all individuals with dignity in a society in which Stand Your Ground is rapidly becoming the new ethos.  Teachers must make sure that the quiet ones are heard and that the loud ones understand that there is a big difference between hearing and listening.

There are dozens of other expectations that society places on a teacher.  And when the school day is over they go home to grade papers and plan for the next day when they will come back and do the whole thing all over again.

In close to 35 years of teaching I was lucky to see a number of my students make the choice to go into teaching.  All of them could have been successful in any occupation they chose.  Over the time I spent with them I read their most intimate thoughts in the assignments they prepared, I listened to them as they struggled to make sense of the literature they read and its connection to the world they knew and the world they hoped for, and as I walked around their classroom I was continually impressed at how attentively they listened to each other.

I know for a fact that none of those bright kids chose teaching as a career because he or she would have the summer off.

So here’s to my old retired mates . . . the way you spent your working years was worth it.  It had meaning.  You know it and I know it.

And here’s to my buddies back at the Carl Sandburg English department.  Keep up the good work . . . take care of each other . . . make it a good year.

And with a whole bunch of pride and respect, here’s to all you kids who grew up to be teachers.  Our daughter, Kristen. Joe and Aly.  Lauren, Bailey, Kristine, Derrick, Gina.  Sabrina, Holly and Rose.  Jill and Maureen.  Becky, Missy, Alec.  Hemant and Michelle.  And all of the rest of you who make a difference every day.

Be good to yourselves.  Be good to the special people who are a part of your lives.

If you’re ever looking to have a good breakfast on a Friday, let me know.

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