DR. SUSAN PURSER: Our Teachers Have Made Us What We Are
The writer is superintendent of the Moore County school system.
American Education Week -- just another celebration?
Absolutely not! This observance, which begins today, is a time for all of us to reflect on the teachers who taught us, the schools where we studied, the education we received, the values we learned and the people with whom we shared those experiences -- and how all of these are a part of the fabric from which we are made.
I must admit that I was not always the ideal student. For example, I still remember the "F" I made in first grade. In our "Think and Do" books, Mrs. Graff told us to color the kitchen utensils on a particular page pink and the sewing utensils blue. I thought that was boring, so I colored them in a variety of colors. However, I did learn a valuable lesson from that "F."
Mrs. Russell was my English teacher in both the seventh and ninth grades. She truly loved English and loved sharing her enchantment with the subject. It's a credit to her passion and abilities that she taught me to enjoy reading Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." I truly wish she were still with us today so I could tell her, "Thank you!"
I learned another lesson -- the hard way -- from my senior English teacher, Miss Long. She gave me a "C" on a writing assignment -- said it was an "A" paper, but I made a mistake -- and she wanted me to remember. Believe me, I did -- and still do till this day.
Mr. Mercer, my geometry teacher, was -- as a teacher -- an artist. The classroom was his canvas, which he transformed into a three-dimensional learning environment. We didn't learn geometry from a book; we were taught to see the subject matter in our surroundings.
In college, Professor Harding did something magical in his classes. He made sophomore literature come alive because he loved it and became totally immersed in it himself. He would pull a passage from a story and talk about the author, the work itself, the period in which it took place, how the author related to that period. We'd analyze and synthesize. I was so engaged in what I was learning that I believed I could actually make the 105 that was necessary on the final test to get my "A." Never mind that he never gave a test with more than 100 points -- that's just how much he made me believe in myself.
All of my teachers helped me to believe in myself -- including my third-grade teacher, whom I loved even though she lifted my petticoats in front of the class to paddle me.
I eventually became a math teacher. Girls generally didn't do as well in math as boys and, therefore, weren't encouraged to seek careers in that area. But I didn't know that, and none of my teachers ever uttered a word to discourage me from becoming a math teacher or following any other dream I may have had.
Looking back, I can see that all of my teachers, from the first grade through those I had while working on my doctorate, contributed in their own unique way to my development. And it's taken me many years to realize a very important truth: It wasn't so much about the content -- it was how they developed me.
Much Has Changed
The teaching profession today, though, is different from what it was when I was in school 40 years ago -- and even different from when I was a teacher. As much as I admire those teachers who brought me along through those critical years of growth, teachers today are truly better than they ever have been.
The training they have received and continue to receive on a regular basis, the skills they have developed, the resources they have at their disposal, the growth opportunities they take advantage of, the collaboration that takes place to maximize knowledge and resources, the evaluations and standards which our teachers meet admirably, and much more -- all of these have evolved over the years to address the needs of a changing student population and the world into which they will one day go.
Also, in contrast to the past, the textbook is not the main determiner of the curriculum. For example, North Carolina has a standard course of study that was developed with input from educators at all levels across the state to align with national and international standards in the various subject areas -- and to ensure that our students are experiencing a globally competitive curriculum.
Additionally, dialogue with and among teachers today goes beyond content and curriculum. Learning styles are addressed, along with classroom management, student diversity, differentiation for student needs and strengths, integration of technology into the curriculum, instructional strategies, and more.
A teacher today has many unique challenges. And without a doubt, teaching is one of the most challenging professions in our society. In a day when nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, it is abundantly evident that it takes a special person to be a teacher.
Being a teacher truly is a "calling," not just a job -- and much more than knowledge of subject matter is required. Teachers must love children, possess a talent for imparting knowledge to others, have a desire to learn constantly and grow professionally, and be willing to "go the extra mile" to help students achieve.
Right and Responsibility
I truly admire and respect our teachers in Moore County.
One of my greatest joys is meeting on a monthly basis with the Teacher Advisory Council. The time I spend with these representatives from each school is not only enjoyable, but also educational and enlightening. I hear perceptive observations, innovative ideas and unique approaches to teaching that still amaze me after all these years in education.
Although I am in the schools and visiting classrooms as much as possible, it is never as much time as I'd like. However, each time I go, I see children who are engaged in creative learning activities. I observe best teaching practices that bring about continuous achievement. I see children's needs addressed on an individual basis and children being nurtured to experience the joy of success. The pride I feel at these times is indescribable.
I am also proud that our teachers have the desire to lead our students in endeavors that take them beyond the classroom to challenge their abilities further. Just in the past year, for example, I have seen great amounts of energy, time and effort outside the classroom that have brought our students state and national awards in the areas of debate, chorus, band, technology, and more. These accomplishments required leadership, extra hours, hard work, and a desire to see students excel beyond the classroom by the teachers who love what they do and are willing to give more than a "job" requires.
Each year, the National Education Association sponsors American Education Week. This year it is Nov. 16-22. The week spotlights the importance of providing every child in America with a quality public education from kindergarten through college, and the need for everyone to do his or her part in making public schools great. This year's slogan -- "Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility" -- reflects a calling upon America to provide students with quality public schools so that they can grow, prosper, and achieve in the 21st century.
I count myself among the most fortunate people in the world to have spent a career among people who contribute so much to the greatness of our community and our country. It is only fitting that we should honor our teachers during American Education Week, because they are the beating heart that is the life of our public education system. I want to take this opportunity to say publicly "thank you" to all of our teachers. Their job is immense, their responsibility awesome, and the quality of their efforts is reflected in the exceptional achievements of our students.
This week is also an appropriate time to recognize the Moore County Public Education Foundation, which honors our teachers on a regular basis by providing monetary awards that allow them to carry out innovative ideas that enhance students' educational opportunities. During the previous school year, this dedicated group of individuals provided monetary awards in such areas as take-home reading materials, a butterfly-five senses garden, digital filming equipment, a Chamber Music Club and materials for parent-student educational activities during the summer.
A Way to Say Thanks
The mission of the Public Education Foundation is to encourage excellence in educational practices in the Moore County public schools by providing financial support and recognition for engaging learning experiences. Any teacher may submit an application that is reviewed by the Public Education Foundation Committee.
Applicants are interviewed by the Awards Committee to gain a clear understanding of the teacher's proposal. To quote from the application, "Creativity is an essential element in requests for financial awards. The focus is on creating learning opportunities that excite and motivate students while enhancing the curriculum. The focus is not on the acquired materials but the creative use of the acquired materials."
During American Education Week, we should honor our teachers -- those who lead our children today and those who led us during our years in school. I can think of no better way to honor them than through our local Public Education Foundation. I would like to encourage everyone to consider a donation to the foundation in honor of a teacher who made a difference in your preparation for the future.
To contribute something toward a special learning opportunity for a student today is, to me, a most appropriate way to remember what a teacher or teachers did for us in the past.
Please join me by making such a gesture which you can do by contacting Carol Geerdes at email@example.com. Phone 910-692-3926, or fax 910-692-0619. Or simply mail your donation to the Public Education Foundation of Moore County Inc., 10677 Highway 15/501, Southern Pines, NC 28387.
And to Mrs. Graff, Mrs. Russell, Miss Long, Mr. Mercer, and Professor Harding -- thank you!
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