In Praise of Teachers

Neal Lemery
Dancing Elephants Press
4 min readAug 29, 2023

--

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

We may not realize it, but the school year has already begun. At my neighborhood school, our community’s teachers and support staff are already at work. Long hours are being put in to prepare for a productive year of educating our children. Lesson plans, the gathering of materials, the planning of experiences are well underway.

I talked with some of my own high school classmates the other day, delving into good memories with remarkable teachers. Who influenced us, who helped shape us into who we are today? A list of great teachers immediately came up. We had many names in common on our lists, the great, the influential, the amazing professionals who opened the world to us, taught us how to be analytical, curious, and ambitious about our potential.

Over fifty years later, their impact continues to affect our lives, and help us continue to contribute to society. Because of them, we are lifelong learners and lifelong achievers. And, we’ve shaped the generations to follow us.

What makes a great teacher? How do they reach us and fire us up, equipping us to take on challenges and professions, to teach us to also teach, to reach out to others and instill a love for learning?

“Education is not the filling of a pot but the lighting of a fire.” –W.B. Yeats

The great teachers in my life were great fire starters. They were passionate and dedicated, able to arouse my curiosity about a subject, about ways of looking at problems, and developing solutions. They helped me ask more questions, to hunger for even more knowledge and problem-solving tools. They believed in their students, and our potential.

“We are here to learn how to learn, a lifelong skill. We are here to develop your curious mind,” one of my college professors said.

The great teachers fired up the entire classroom, engaging all of us, honoring the skills and curiosity of each of us, teaching us how to work as a team, not leaving anyone behind on our journey to grow our minds and be better learners.

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” — Albert Einstein

Today’s world challenges both students and teachers with a flood of information, challenging problems, and sophisticated advances in technology. Our teachers navigate this world with advancing teaching skills, while also dealing with often overwhelming social challenges that kids deal with. Our society demands a lot of our youth, socially and professionally. Jobs are increasingly demanding. Navigating relationships, family, and community is complicated. The learning curve is steep for all of us, and especially for youth.

The expectations and demands we impose on teachers are not often on our radar. We tend to take them for granted, expecting that schools are growing talented and skills workers of the future. We should be advocates for teachers, and ensure that they receive the support they need.

Great teaching and successful education depends on all of us, teachers, parents, family, neighbors, employers, co-workers. “It takes a village” is often seen as a cliché, but each of us truly has a stake in raising and educating the next generation of learners. Our future literally depends on this important work. All of us are play supporting roles for teachers. They need us to back them up, to advocate for them in their vital work.

The unsung heroes in our community are now back at school, laying the groundwork for a successful year. We can all support that work, connecting with kids, talking with them about learning, about developing skills, about feeling valued and cherished as vital members of the community. We all need to be working to train the leaders of tomorrow, the essential workers, the skilled and innovative work force that will contribute even more to society, making a better world. Yes, it does take a community to raise a child.

My high school class, my friends, my community are all better off because of great teachers, and a community that believes in education, in lifting all of us up. Today, I thank my teachers, and all the teachers in our community and nation for all their contributions and sacrifice, their determination, and their devotion to kids.

Teaching is not a calling to which everyone can rise. The hours are long, the challenges sometimes daunting. Kids have a variety of learning styles, abilities, and challenge teachers on many levels. Yet the rewards are many. Often, the fruit of their labors may take years to ripen. Yet, lives are changed. The world can be a better place because of the work and dedication of a teacher.

I try to remember to say “thanks” to these brave and hard-working professionals, who are taking on one of our community’s most important tasks.

8/27/2023

--

--

Neal Lemery
Dancing Elephants Press

Author of Be the Change: One Random Act of Kindness at a Time; Building Community, Rural Voices for Hope and Change; and others. On Amazon.