have a rubber apple on my desk that serves as a constant reminder about my work. In the words of Christa McAuliffe, "I touch the future; I teach."
Just as you can remember where you were when you learned JFK had been shot, and we all recall where we were when "The Big One" struck our county, I remember walking into the principal's office at Mountain Elementary School on January 28, 1986, and learning that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded 73 seconds after take-off with its special passenger who was to be the first teacher in space.
Teachers are occasionally recognized for the work they do. Apparently, Ronald Reagan recognized the teacher as good publicity for the space program. The Great Communicator knew that a teacher would be able to communicate clearly to the world the magnificence of our space exploration adventure. And I believe that teachers all over the country, perhaps the world, felt a kinship with this teacher selected for space travel.
Christa, known to her students as the "Field Trip Teacher," referred to her space flight as the "Ultimate Field Trip." While her flight ended in disaster, her bravery and her positive attitude live in our memory.
Now, in the twenty-first century, increasing demands and pressures are placed on teachers. They are expected to be technological wizards. They must teach to the standards and prepare the kids for the statewide tests upon which substantial monetary rewards and bragging rights are based. And they must not leave any child behind! They must refer to specialists, defer to experts, report to parents, answer to administrators, document special circumstances and be accountable for the final product, hopefully a well-educated graduate.
In the meantime, teachers are expected to guide their students towards being grown-up, responsible citizens, who have respect for the Rule of Law and who will conduct themselves honorably for the betterment of the world.
I've been prowling through the newspaper for stories of school boards that give to the teachers some of that respect and recognition that they should be earning every day. And what do I see?
I read about a school board in a district far away that overpowered one of its own teachers in her attempts to instill honor and promote responsible research in her classroom. Her students had plagiarized from web sites in the writing of their reports. When she failed those students, the School Board overruled her. The message: Pass those plagiarists! The not so hidden message: You're not really in charge here!
I would like to see school boards team up with school administrators in the role of enablers. I would like to see them enable teachers to do that job which called them years ago. Enable them to inspire to greatness. Enable them to make the classroom an exciting place where knowledge and skill is reflected in the gleam in the students' eyes. Provide the buildings, the books, the necessities required, and then Get out of the way and let them teach!
Standards are helpful. Guidelines are crucial. Tests are terrific. Funding sources are beneficial. But give to the teacher the credit deserved! It is the teacher on whose shoulders rests our hope for a better world. It is the teacher who will make the difference. It is the teacher who touches the future!
Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and is Vice-president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Governing Board in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, April, 20, 2002. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.
© Sandra Nichols 2002