The past two years have seen the U.S. in the midst of education workers’ strikes all across the nation. Urban, rural, and suburban districts alike have all seen teachers in their local school districts fight for better pay, benefits, and educational funding from their local and state governments. From the classroom to the boardroom, American teachers are doing what they can to improve public education for all children. Many, taking a page out of John Keating’s poetry books, employ unique and innovative techniques to inspire and motivate their students, making public school more than just standardized testing and mandatory curriculums.
Take Mr. Van Phillips Jr., an elementary school teacher in Shreveport, Louisiana. Every day, Phillips Jr. makes it a point to let his students know that his class – and their education – is not simply a means to an end, but a journey of impassioned learning. The walls of his classroom are decorated with inspirational quotes from leaders like former president Barack Obama, reminding students of their potential for success and greatness. And every morning, the 4th graders of Cherokee Park Elementary School recite The Dreamer’s Pledge, a mantra of hope, inspiration, and a call to action for students to focus and pursue their dreams. Written by Phillips Jr. himself, The Dreamer’s Pledge is a gift to his young students.
And while some state legislators and school board officials may push educators to focus on quantitative measures – test scores and curriculums – of educational progress, Phillips Jr.’s dedication to ‘teach the students how to dream’ has shown promising increases in test scores. According to an article from KSLA, average English and Social Studies test scores for Phillips Jr.’s students went up by more than twenty points.
But many teachers take their care and generosity for their students past the classroom. For students without a stable home life, a teacher and mentor who can step up to this responsibility can make a world of difference. That’s exactly what Mrs. Nita Nicholie, a high school science teacher in St. Joseph, Michigan, did when she opened her home to over 20 students throughout her teaching career. Nicholie told NPR in a statement that she knew many of these kids needed nothing more than a safe place to sleep and some warm food. It was not only the warmth of Mrs. Nicholie’s home, but also the warmth and love in her heart, that made a true difference in her student’s lives.
It is the educators and community leaders that go against the grain to help their students and make a difference who are the true heroes of our world. This heroism is exactly what school superintendent Casey Smitherman displayed in January of 2019 when she took one of her high school students to the emergency room. The fifteen-year-old boy had been sick with symptoms of strep throat, and Ms. Smitherman had taken notice when he missed school. Concerned, the superintendent visited the student at home to make sure he was okay. After realizing the severity of his symptoms, Smitherman took the boy to the ER to make absolutely sure that he received the care he needed, despite him not having insurance. In a moment of desperation, she signed him under her own insurance, paying for the treatment out of pocket – and was charged with fraud for the act of kindness.
The community of Elwood, Indiana rallied around Smitherman, saying that her actions went above and beyond the call of duty, despite knowing that they may land her in trouble with the school board and authorities. Thanks to her quick thinking, the student did recover from strep throat, got the medication he needed, and was back to school in no time.
Teachers and public education workers often become mentors and leaders in their young students’ eyes. Many times, they pick up responsibilities far past what their job description outlines – as motivational speakers, friends, advocates for their students, and sometimes, their greatest allies. In light of the roles that our teachers play in our communities, it’s time we celebrate their commitment and passion to their students and give them the fair pay and funding they deserve. Educators are tasked with molding our futures. After all, it is teachers who inspire the youth to strive for greatness, teachers who dare them to dream, and teachers who give them the tools to do all the above
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