On December 6, 2013 I brought my daughter to the Old Dairy for lunch. While eating, members of the MHS band filed in, some in holiday garb, and under the direction of Mr. Wetmore regaled us with music. Instantly my daughter asked if we could move closer to watch. We did.
Mr. Wetmore is beloved by this community for good reason, and I watched as the students interacted with him in a way that illustrated respect, admiration, and cooperation. As we left, my daughter sighed, “That was magical.” And it was magical, but I thought back to the summer evenings and early autumnal dusks where I could hear Mr. Whetmore on the bullhorn, from my porch blocks away from MHS, congratulating students, calling for another run through, or instructing a section regarding what needed to be fixed.
A friend’s daughter is in marching band and I have enjoyed watching her immersion in a new community, and the growing pride she has in her individual performance, and in playing a part in a larger whole. We forget about the hours and hours that go into the final product—the performance that brings applause and first place. We forget about the hours and hours our teachers literally give to insure our students have a full, rich education.
This all came back to me as I listened to Rich Egger’s story on Tri-States Public Radio (“Macomb Teachers Take Job Action” December 16, 2013) that reported teachers’ decision to “Work to the Rule.” I stand in full support of our teachers, and was disheartened by Superintendent Twomey’s comment that this choice was “wrong” because of its impact on students.
“Working to Rule” forces us—as parents, as community members, as tax payers—to be mindful of the amount of work teachers do that they aren’t paid for. Twomey referenced the fact that teaching is often a “calling” and indeed, for most educators I know personally, and those who have taught my children, it is a vocation. They treat the opportunity to educate our community’s children as an honor and a privilege. We, in turn, have an obligation to make sure they are justly compensated. Teachers cannot be expected to give of their time, talents, energy and passion without acknowledgement. We must be mindful of what they give, rather than taking it for granted and expecting it, as Twomey’s comments regarding a “calling” imply. Time is our most precious commodity, and our teachers give of it so freely. A “calling” is not just cause to ignore just compensation.
Standing in the Old Dairy, I could see that the students under Mr. Wetmore’s direction would cite him as an excellent teacher, one that changed their lives. Teachers do this. The best teachers do not stop in the classroom. They walk a student home, like my eighth grade English teacher Patricia Rourke did, discussing A Separate Peace with me as though I were an equal.
They recommend books from their private collection, and then bring them to school, handing them over with solemnity like Sally Egler, one of my phenomenal high school English teachers. They take public delight in their students’ work like Jana Hayworth, another fabulous English teacher, or introduce students to environmental concerns, decades in advance of popular culture, like Cathy Palm-Gessner, my Earth Science teacher. They help their students get their first real job (Sally Egler again). They instill a profound love of music, allow you to sing your heart out with abandon, lifting your voice with a choir of diverse students. It’s so meaningful to know my children will also learn from Erin Stegall, an excellent music teacher, and once my exuberant choir teacher.
My Junior Varsity basketball coach, Kelly Sears, always taught me that the joy was in the hard work. When I didn’t think I could dig deeper, he’d tell me I had something left. I believed him and so I dug deep and found reserves of energy, endurance and enthusiasm I did not know I possessed. My work ethic would not be nearly as strong if he had not recognized it, pointed it out, and then commended it. I would not be who I am without these teachers and many more who will have to go unnamed due to the limits of space and time. I would not be an instructor of English. I would not be as committed to my students or to my community had it not been for such deeply invested teachers.
I want to commend our teachers. I want to recognize how hard they work. Superintendent Twomey forgets that our teachers, in “Working to the Rule” are teaching our students something that transfers to the larger world, a valuable lesson we should all know how to enact and have the courage to put into practice. They are teaching our children how to be the change they want to see; how to raise awareness, how to educate others, and how to work for real change. For this, and for so much more, I am grateful for our teachers and I stand with them.
If we want teaching to remain a calling for our teachers, if we want them to be willing to extend themselves as teachers who teach within, and outside of, the classroom—then we must, we must be mindful of how much they give, acknowledge what they do, and justly compensate them for it.
Barbara Harroun is an instructor of English at Western Illinois University. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.