Growing up there were two choices in my little world: both were Catholic schools. In my hometown there was also a Lutheran school, but it seemed foreign and exotic and I never knew anyone who actually went there. And Public School was taboo and frightening. We simultaneously prayed for and pitied the Public School kids but mostly we feared them.
Such was life in a small town in the 1960’s. There were as many as 40 kids in a single classroom. We sat in long rows. We took turns. We did as we were told. We attended Mass daily. We were (mostly) quiet, polite and respectful. We studied hard. We burned off excess energy on the asphalt playground. We helped clean chalkboards after school for fun. And Sister kept order and discipline at all times.
Nostalgia has a way of white-washing and sweetening our memories. But Catholic school in the 1960’s was far from idyllic. Learning disabilities were discounted or ignored (kids were either smart or stupid). Physical abuse went unreported. Bullies controlled the playground and bathrooms. And although Sister was always right, she was under-valued, under-paid and likely took out her frustration on the students in her care.
My granddaughters are now in school and tremendous advances in education have been made in the 50+ years since I started elementary school. As a society we are more aware of bullying (and have adopted zero-tolerance policies), we embrace and celebrate diversity, and learning disabilities are diagnosed and accommodated.
One granddaughter attends Public School, the other attends Catholic School. Each attend quality schools with small class sizes and safe classrooms. Both have sound nutritional and physical programs, as well as art and music at their respective schools. And both have attentive and engaged parents who value education.
Yet I’m in a bit of a daze. Teachers in 2013 still seem to be under-valued, under-paid and under-appreciated. Our children are in the hands of teachers who are often struggling to make ends meet. Not surprising that gifted teachers often leave their careers for better paying jobs in the corporate world. As a society it seems we pay more attention to the kind of athletic shoes, iPhones or fashion that our kids are sporting then to ensuring that they are being educated by well-paid, well-trained teachers.
Let’s invest in our future. Let’s appropriately fund our schools. Let’s support educators. And let’s thank the ones that taught us by working for a better life for the ones that will teach our future generations. I was blessed to be taught by Sisters who loved God and their communities and sacrificed their lives that we might learn. If you want to be nostalgic think of a teacher that you loved (and who loved you). And then pay that love forward to a future teacher who might just improve the lives of your grandchildren.