Kicking off the 2013-14 school year last week, Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter told the districts educators, “For some of our students, the best place they can be all day is at school.
“It’s the cleanest, safest, happiest and most hopeful place they know.”
Some adults remember the sounds and scents of school: playground equipment’s clinking chains, the cleansers used on desktops and floors, clanging bells, chalk dust suspended in too-warm late summer air. They may also remember the hopeful sense of new beginnings: new binders, fresh crayons, teachers who encouraged them to believe in limitless possibilities. Some remember teachers who helped them find their way into a future that otherwise would have been unachievable; others remember teachers who helped them hold onto hope when childhood was far more difficult than it should have been.
Not all children begin their day with breakfast and end it with bedtime stories. Not all children have new school shoes and a bag filled with school supplies. Not all children have books at home.
Unfortunately, not all children have families that can, or will, feed their dreams and equip their realities in the way teachers do.
Educators and social commentators have long bemoaned the fact that schools must do more than teach, because those other tasks — feeding breakfast, checking for bruises and lice, listening for clues that a child’s home life is not safe — consume time and energy and resources needed for an already demanding job. This isn’t the way the world should work. Children should come to school ready to learn. Teachers should not have to perform parenting duties all day.
When those duties are described as bringing safety and happiness and hope into young lives, though, the inspiration that teachers can provide comes into sharper focus.
Not only can teachers transform incomprehensible squiggles into stories, they can help students understand the future trajectory of their young lives. Study this and you’ll be able to do that. Learn these skills and you’ll be qualified for this job that pays this much. Achieve these grades and you can earn a scholarship. We — teachers, administrators, counselors, coaches, peers, the community — all want you to succeed, and we’re all going to walk alongside you.
To students whose parents have already mastered that walk, that accompaniment may not seem so crucial, but to children who are out in front of their own families — offspring of adults whose own educational experiences were not positive; kids whose parents are absent, too busy, too impaired or otherwise unequipped to help; youngsters whose families will not support any achievement that might pull them beyond their culture and community — educators truly are agents of hope and possibility.
The community also has a role. School supplies are cheap; encouragement is priceless. As children go back to school on Wednesday, remember what it was like to be young. Remember believing you could be anything you wanted to be and accomplish anything you wanted to do, if only you worked hard enough. Look out for the safety of our young people; celebrate their happiness, and rejoice in their hope.
And thank their teachers in tangible ways.