Teachers are unique

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to Iowa’s public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.

The butter used to sculpt the butter cow is in cold storage. In stores, back-to-school supplies are supplanted by Halloween. From the looks of Facebook, parents mostly won the first day photo battle and got the cherished shot of their kids holding a paper plate with their new grade announced boldly.

School has started.

It’s a hectic time for both parents and teachers. Even though there might be a hundred memes celebrating when the kids finally go back to school, parents feel a heart flutter on that first day. No, it’s not AFib. It’s cause by the reminder that time doesn’t stand still, and those paper plate photos will soon be what’s left of their school years.

Another secret is that teachers started preparing long before the first day. They’ve braved scalding building temperatures and custodian scowls to get their rooms ready on their own time with their own dime. They didn’t need meetings filled with motivational messages. They were motivated to get it done for their kids.

Teachers at all levels understand their kids. Elementary teachers make their rooms cocoons of learning. They make cute name tags for desks and design attractive centers for learning.

Middle school and high school teachers don’t worry as much about rooms. They work to find ways to motivate undermotivated adolescents to the next level of their lives. That’s a challenge but that’s their calling.

Teaching is unique and challenging. As we start a new year, here are some observations about that unique profession.

Teachers pray every new year for reasonable class sizes. It’s not just workload. It’s about being able to do more creative teaching with fifteen kids instead of 30. Class size matters.

From 5th grade up, they pray parents have taught their kids about deodorant, especially right after a hot PE class.

Teachers train their bladders. Unlike any other profession, they go on a schedule.

It’s the only profession where you get to buy new school clothes even when you’re 50.

Teachers are not interchangeable. An Involuntary transfer where a first-grade teacher is moved to middle school is like moving a cardiac surgeon to an orthopedic case. Both are highly qualified doctors, but their specialties are different. Teaching is the same way. The teacher shortage cannot be solved with involuntary transfers.

Teachers feel called to teach, but they weren’t called to a life of poverty. If Iowa wants to cure the teacher shortage, pay more and improve their working conditions. “If you build it, they will come.”

When was the last time you hugged the dentist you had as a kid? I bet if you saw your favorite teacher in the mall, you would.

Once you’ve been in a teacher’s class, you are one of their kids forever. Teachers love to hear from their kids. Email or call them.

Teachers want parents to partner in their child’s education. Please, look at your kids’ papers, read to them at night, help with homework, come to parent teacher conferences, come to concerts and programs. Only AM radio and right-wing TV believe teachers try to exclude parents. They don’t.

Don’t believe everything you hear about what’s happening at school. Instead, find out by asking a teacher.

Book banners are never the good guys. Let teachers decide what is age appropriate. They know.

If you want to appreciate teachers, vote for politicians who don’t use their profession as a political punchline.

Teachers are told to diversify instruction, and then they are measured by standardized tests. That’s absurd.   

Let teachers teach, miracles will happen, and kids will grow into happy, healthy adults you’ll want to have as neighbors.

Top image of teacher and students is by wavebreakmedia and available via Shutterstock.

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  • The Road to Decline

    Another excellent commentary Bruce. Teachers have long been undervalued in our society . . . and sadly even more so in the State of Iowa in this moment.

    I don’t see how public education in Iowa can do anything but decline under the twisted leadership of Governor Reynolds and her lemmings in the legislature.

    Our exceptional teachers can use their experience, talents and dedication to fight against the tide for a time. But, in the long run, it’s a matter of resources and choices.

    In the end, our public schools will only be as good as our commitment to and investment in them. As financial resources wane and political micromanagement increases, we’ll lose quality teachers. Then the doctors, skilled workers and professionals of all stripes that Iowa needs to thrive will look past Iowa as a place to work and raise their families.

    Meanwhile, our governor prioritizes a trip to the Texas border to showcase more empty cries of victimization and fear of the other.

    Of course, it’s the choice of Iowans to determine what they want our state to represent. Their votes, in recent times anyway, favor a journey on the road to decline.