The Value of Teachers

23 01 2012

Recently, a friend of mine blogged a post about frustrations of a colleague publicly announcing the hopelessness of one particular child. According to Nicholas Kristof, such a teacher needs to be cut. But to be fair, though a line that should not be crossed was possibly breached, it may have been extra difficult for that teacher. Maybe even, if he/she were valued in return, his/her efforts to see hope in the hopeless might have been a little easier.

Of one of my favorite Korean movies is titled 두사부일체 (頭師父一體; doo-sa-boo-il-chae). Comedic content aside, merely the title itself can resonates with most, as it roughly translates to: Your boss, your teacher, your father are one. Meaning, as much as you respect your father, so should you respect your teacher and boss. Of course, in order to be respected, one has to be respectable, but there is, to be sure, an undervaluing of teachers in our society. That has to change.

Kristof, in his NY Times Op-Ed Column titled “How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal“, tells an account of a teacher who, through the type of teacher she was, exuded respectability:

At a high school reunion, Grady stunned Neal by confiding to him that she had spotted him stealing that first book. Her impulse was to confront him, but then, in a flash of understanding, she realized his embarrassment at being seen checking out a book.

So Grady kept quiet. The next Saturday, she told him, she drove 70 miles to Memphis to search the bookshops for another novel by Yerby. Finally, she found one, bought it and put it on the library bookshelf.

Twice more, Grady told Neal, she spent her Saturdays trekking to Memphis to buy books by Yerby — all in hopes of turning around a rude adolescent who had made her cry. She paid for the books out of her own pocket.

By the clandestine care of Grady, Neal went from a troubled teen on to become a college graduate, law student, district attorney, and then a judge. Kristof claims that such teachers need to be properly valued in the education system, and can possibly be part of the solution to larger social problems:

The big-hearted Grady, now dead, is a reminder that teachers may have the most important job in America. By all accounts, Grady transformed many other children as well, through more mundane methods.

To me, the lesson is that while there are no silver bullets to chip away at poverty or improve national competitiveness, improving the ranks of teachers is part of the answer. That’s especially true for needy kids, who often get the weakest teachers. That should be the civil rights scandal of our time.

So as an encouragement to all the great, personable, and sacrificial teachers out there. Keep it up. Though the product of your labors are often hard to see, it is valuable work.

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”
-T.H. White, The Once and Future King

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