School Daze

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.

St_Peter_Grade_School_1960Such 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.




On Tuesday evening during his State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about school teachers. This is what he said: “Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.”

That got me thinking about teachers that I know and have known. It called to mind some of the great teachers that I had as well as the great teachers that my kids had, too. It also gave me a greater appreciation for friends that are teachers.
I think that as a nation we place a higher regard on the latest tech gadget or apparel or toy or sporting equipment that our children “need” rather than focusing on the quality or commitment of their teachers and schools. Simply looking at funding for education it paints a poor picture of our nation’s values. But great teachers just keep doing their jobs with little praise and often with inadequate compensation.

I believe that we dismiss the sacrifice that good teachers make for our children. Too often I have heard people say things like, “Teachers have it made, where else can you work nine months of the year and get paid for summers off?” Or there’s that old ‘chestnut’ – “those that can do; those that can’t teach”.  And yet we entrust teachers with our most cherished resource – our children. Our futures.

What’s my point?  I had great teachers that I know I never thanked. My kids had even better teachers than I did and I’m not sure we ever thanked them either.

So here goes:

  • Thanks Miss Boerding. You made me not miss my mom so much when I was a scared little 2nd grader.
  • Thanks Sister Fidesta.  You made Algebra and Geometry fun, even if the fun stuff had nothing to do with Algebra or Geometry. (Martaun and I still laugh about it!)
  • Thanks Sister Thecla. You made me love drafting, design, and graphic arts (and I built a career on it). Plus you were just one crazy lady!
  • Thanks Mr. Elmore. You taught Deb life lessons. We both loved you for it and we miss you.
  • Thanks Dean Crozier. You helped me realize that the world was much bigger than just Saint Charles, Missouri.

Thanks Cindy, Kathy, Peggy, Keith, Mary and all the other teachers that I know who are still committed to their students and their vocation. God bless you for the work that you do. You are nation builders – never forget that!