Portland Sun

Susan Steen: Great teachers give us a love of learning

Susan Steen

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” — Kahlil Gibran

Mr. Hill will always be a teacher I remember. He allowed me to figure things out on my own. Well, I, along with a travel agent and many pages in the Britannica, figured out how to take a trip.

I never took the trip in real life, but in my middle school social studies class, I traveled. I had to figure out so many things about where I was traveling, how I would travel, what I would need to have with me, how my dollars would be converted, and what I wanted to see while I was there. Mr. Hill didn’t spoon feed us. Mr. Hill did what Gibran says a teacher does — he used his wisdom to lead us to the threshold of our minds. By that definition, I think any of us could be called a teacher, though it takes a special kind to be in the classroom each day.

It’s May, which is National Teacher Appreciation month, and I love that one great thing that came out of COVID (there were a few good results of COVID) is the extra appreciation of teachers by the parents who were trying either to teach their children at home or simply help with distance learning.

Some people are great at homeschooling, but not everyone is nor wants to be. But parents also saw how teachers who are great with the regular classroom were asked to totally change the way they taught to accommodate the virtual classroom. Teachers don’t go to school learning how to teach from a distance. And then we saw teachers leave the classroom altogether. They were burned out.

According to US News & World Report, “As of January 2022, 44% of public schools reported having at least one teaching vacancy, and 61% of them specifically identified the COVID-19 pandemic as a cause of those vacancies. Resignations accounted for 51% of the vacancies and retirements accounted for 21%.”

Miss Eva Beadle taught all the children in the one-room school in Walnut Grove. In most schools today, there is at least one room for each grade level of students. Those sweet little chalkboards the children used were the precursors to today’s tablets, I suppose. And how far we have come from Miss Beadle’s expectation to teach all grades at one time. 

Miss Beadle was a trained teacher, as in she went to school to learn how to teach. Anyone can transmit information, but an effective teacher does more than deliver the information. A teacher, a professional teacher, has studied how children work, how learning styles are different from one student to the next, and is able to adjust their teaching to accommodate the needs of their students. A trained professional teacher isn’t just someone with a degree. They are someone with a degree in education and a license from their state that lets the rest of us know they have knowledge and skills to help educate students. 

I know it’s a month about teachers, and I know there are some darn good teachers in private schools, and I’m very thankful for the opportunities afforded students in those classrooms. For a moment, though, I need to stay with public education and the teachers in those classrooms. Here are some of the students who have come from those classrooms. 

Tom Hanks – Skyline High School, Oakland, Calif.
George Lucas – Downey High School, Modesto, Calif.
Oprah Winfrey – Nashville East High School, Nashville
Neil Armstrong – Blume High School, Wapakoneta, Ohio
Sergey Brin (Google co-founder) – Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Greenbelt, Md.
Viola Davis – Central Falls High School, Central Fall, R.I.

Warren Buffet – Omaha Central High School, Omaha, Neb.
Sandra Day O’Connor – Austin High School, El Paso, Texas

These are names you will recognize as famous and successful people. There are a whole lot of not-so-famous people who are wildly successful in life who also were educated in public school systems. It’s easy to get caught up in sending your child to expensive preschool, elementary, middle, and high schools, but that isn’t a guarantee they will be more successful nor happier. 

Some families have found that for different reasons, they would prefer their child to go to a private school. Often, it is because religion is part of the private school and isn’t taught in the public school (or shouldn’t be taught there). The problem with this is when a child has attended a private school that focuses more on religion and not enough on core subjects, such as math, science, social studies, and reading skills. If you are spending money on a private school, do your homework before settling for a school that won’t give your child a well-rounded education.

One thing we parents often don’t consider is our role in being able to help a teacher.

  • Make mornings smooth, not hectic and upsetting. Be the adult.
  • If you pack your child’s lunch, include healthy snacks and food. And at home, if at all possible, offer healthy choices for dinner at a reasonable hour.
  • Help your child find a calm setting in the evening that helps them stand a better chance of a restful night’s sleep, which leads to a better day at school.
  • My personal No. 1 piece of advice to help your student and their teacher — allow your child to fail in elementary school. If they forget to do their homework or get a permission slip signed, don’t rush to save them. If you do that when they are little kids, they stand a better chance of remembering when they are older.

Look around your school. Who has been the most meaningful teachers in your or your child’s life? If I could pick two teachers who I felt were checking all the boxes and a few extra, I would choose Joye Weaver and Brenda Dent Gregory.

Joye was the first public school teacher both of my children had, and Brenda was the last teacher my older son had. They were bookends to wonderful men and women who challenged my sons to think outside the box. Thank you to two incredible women. 

Thank you to every teacher who shows up, who scrubs desks, who buys supplies they shouldn’t have to provide, and who offers courage and compassion when many people need it. Thank you for the willingness to teach students to think for themselves, instead of believing whatever someone has shared as an uneducated opinion. 

Take a minute today to thank a teacher who taught you to love learning.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at stories@susanbsteen.com.

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