The other day I met with my high school student advisory group for the last time this year. Our conversation was typical and they offered insight into a whole host of issues that I promised to follow up on soon. During these conversations I encourage them to ask me questions about what is going on in the school and anything else that may be of interest to them. One of the questions had to do with staffing for next year and if we had hired everyone that we needed. Then the conversation began to drift into hiring practices and wage differentials between educators and those in the private sector. The students didn't seem to be at all surprised that teachers are compensated less than those who work in the private sector.
I told them that teachers realize when they choose education as a vocation that they are not going to become wealthy. They are doing this work for a different reason. If you ask them [teachers], they will tell you that they became teachers because they want to help kids realize their potential. But what does 'help kids' mean or look like? I think I have an answer to that question.
Once upon a time there was a kid that grew up in a pretty rural part of a pretty rural state. Upon compulsory attendance age, his parents sent him off to school. The lad wasn't all that interested in school, and was much more interested in having recess and participating in gym class. The idea of learning his letters or his math facts was not at all attractive, and even less so when the sun was shining. When the concept of finding the sum of three numbers was taught, he truly became lost and interest in school really began to wane. Luckily though, he had a teacher that was able to coax, teach, and encourage. Ultimately he crossed the finish line that year.
Like many young people, he was always excited to start school in the fall, and thankful when it was over in the spring. On those dark winter days he would pray for school to be canceled and be elated when it was. Indeed, the school year always began with good intentions--all the homework would be submitted correctly and on time, and hitting the books would be a priority. But by early fall those good intentions were replaced by something else. The homework wouldn't get done and the grades would begin to suffer because of those choices. Somewhere around the 4th grade the students were required to take a course to learn about the history of their state. The culminating activity was a project (today we would refer to the project as an authentic learning experience) that the young 4th grader unfortunately chose not to complete. That decision cost him dearly, because on his report card he had earned a big fat 'F'. But again, the teacher chose to work with and encourage him, thus he crossed the finish line of 4th grade.
By the time junior high had arrived there were many other things that were way more important than school work. He spent much of his time focused on those things rather than on his school work. The grades suffered and he started to pay visits to the principals office. The warnings were always dire, "You better shape up young man, because when you get to high school it is really going to count. If you don't get good grades in high school, you won't be able to get into college." The kid didn't really care because he had no plans of going to college.
Well, high school finally came and it wasn't a whole lot better for this (now) young man. He got a drivers license at the prescribed age and proceeded to destroy somewhere around a half a dozen automobiles before graduating. As the years waned on the pressure of what to do after high school began to mount. Classmates were beginning to make decisions about their future, what they wanted to do with their life, and where they wanted to go to college. Since this young man had no college aspirations and his grades were average to below average at best, it didn't seem like college was in his future. He decided he would go to work at the local factory--until learning they weren't hiring.
Thankfully this young trouble maker had a few teachers that took a keen interest in him. One was a high school social studies teacher that really seemed to be interested in his future. The two hit it off and the kid ultimately ended up taking every class this teacher taught in the high school. The young man began to think, "Maybe I could do this"? There were also two other teachers that for some reason took an interest in this youngster's future. Interestingly enough they were a husband and wife team. He taught the band, she taught the choir. The young man enjoyed music and his teachers discovered he was pretty good at it.
The bad news was by the time senior year arrived, it appeared that it was too late. His options were pretty limited and it was looking more and more like college was out of the question. Then those three teachers intervened. They coached, taught, encouraged, and counseled. Over and over again they said 'You can do this'. The road was hard, and he still managed to exercise a fair amount of poor judgement that landed him in hot water. But those three teachers picked him up and dusted him off. They scolded him for his poor choices and said yet again, 'You can do this'. Well, he finally did it. He crossed the finish line and graduated from high school. I wonder whatever happened to that kid?
The last I heard was that he went off and became a superintendent of schools somewhere. If it hadn't been for those teachers....