Here is a piece I submitted to the The Daily Sentinel to be published as a guest commentary. I haven't heard anything back, so I thought I'd post it here:
As the school year gears up into full swing, I have had the good fortune to sit in a lot of classrooms around District 51. The energy of both students and teachers is palpable. Students are learning how to convert mixed numbers into improper fractions, reviewing strategies for reading for meaning in non-fiction writing, and engaging in hands on learning as they investigate ways to separate mixtures. But just as important, I saw relationships being built between teachers and students. The quiet girl in the corner is quickly becoming Michelle, the budding artists who likes to draw horses and is worried that , and it made me reflect on just how it was that I decided to spend my professional life in education.
Like many in our valley during the winter of 1984, my family was still reeling financially from Exxon’s ”Black Sunday” announcement two years previous. As I walked into Ms. Streeter’s 8th grade math class at Bookcliff Middle School, the list of issues on my mind that morning was much the same as every middle school student in history: reviewing a fight I had with my dad, an emerging acne problem, a festering sore from my braces that was making it difficult to talk, self-consciousness about my “high water” pants, and somewhere way down on the list, my math homework for Ms. Streeter’s class. As I took my seat at the back of the class behind Cory, a guy who I made a point to sit near because he had the incredible advantage of having a calculator on his watch, I noticed a bag sitting beneath my seat. In the bag was a new set of clothes, pants included. Ms. Streeter never acknowledged her gift to me beyond the private wink she gave in reply to my puzzled look, and so I quickly hid the bag of clothes behind my backpack.
Ms. Streeter was an excellent math teacher, but she was so much more than that. The clothes she gave me made my year a little easier. The fact that she cared enough to go out of her way to make an awkward time in my life a little more bearable continues to shape me. True, it was the measurable academic skills I graduated District 51 with that allowed me entrance into CU-Boulder with the necessary scholarships for me to afford it, but it was the unquantifiable Ms. Streeter moments (and I had many more) that taught me what it was to be my best self.
It was 20 years later that I first spoke publicly about that bag of clothes. I had been honored by two students from Bookcliff Middle School (where, ironically, I was working as an 8th grade math teacher) to speak on their behalf at a Student of the Month luncheon. Ms. Streeter was also there with a group from Orchard Mesa Middle School, where she obviously was still making a difference in childrens’ lives. After giving my prepared remarks about the wonderful children I brought, I took a moment to give a long overdue thank you. Ms. Streeter has since retired from District 51, but like many former teachers, she continues to volunteer in our classrooms. Teaching is not what she does; it’s who she is, and retirement certainly hasn’t changed that.
I have taught long enough now to know that experiences like the one I just described are happening every day in our schools. Despite the national attack on our public education system, the reality is that our schools are packed with Ms. Streeters and the vast majority of parents love both their neighborhood school and the teachers that are waiting for their children. I would encourage you to reflect on the many teachers that made a difference in your life, and then think about what parts of the value they brought to you would be reflected on a standardized test.