Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. If you are on Facebook, you can see a number of people “thanking” their favorite teacher. Even EdSec Arne Duncan has gotten into the act, offering up a
national message on YouTube in recognition of the day and of teachers across
Maybe it is just me, but I find it incredibly difficult to single out one teacher worthy of thanks. I think of Mr. Wolf, my second grade teacher. Or Mr. Ertmer, who taught me both econ and world history and also got me to DC for the first time through Close Up. Or Ms. Walker (now Mrs. Sowers), my AP English teacher and student government advisor. Or even Dr. Prosser, the first college professor who actually took an interest in me and gave me my only A+ while I was in college.
Those who read Eduflack know that I’m often up on my high horse about the importance of parental/family engagement in the education process. We simply cannot improve student achievement without a stronger commitment from the home front. Parents are our first teacher, and they are often our most important.
So in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day, I need to recognize Mrs. Riccards, my mother and a damned good high school English teacher in her own right. I was never privileged to have my mom as a teacher (that would have been too grand a punishment for such a terrific woman). But to this day, both in my personal and my professional lives, I reflect on the lessons she taught me and her experiences in the classroom.
My mother joined the teaching profession as a mid-career. When my youngest sister hit school age, my mom went back to school to get her teaching certificate. She student taught at St. Catherine’s Indian School in Santa Fe, NM. Then she began her career as a 10th grade English teacher. She started at Pecos High School in Pecos, NM, one of the roughest rural communities I’ve ever seen. Then she taught at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, WV; Gardner High School in Gardner, MA; and “Hospitality High” and McKinley High School in Washington, DC. (She moved around as my father moved up the higher education administration ladder.)
She walked the picket lines in West Virginia for two weeks, striking with every NEA teacher across the state for better pay and working conditions (they succeeded). She was a tough teacher, always pushing her students and demanding hard work. While many would try, no one could get her to compromise her standards, not even for star athletes, relentless parents, or administrators who didn’t want the hassle. As a result, her students learned and achieved. She probably had the greatest impact on all of the “basic” students she taught over the years, kids that many people had given up on, but she wouldn’t. She pushed them, and they responded. They learned the five-paragraph essay. They learned American literature. And they learned responsibility and to set high expectations for themselves.
And me? My mom was the first to point out I have a tendency to write in the passive voice. At an early age, she made clear she and my dad wouldn’t pay for grades. “You don’t earn them for me, they are for you,” she would say. She has always been proud of me, encouraging and pushing me. But she is also quick to tell me when I am being too hard on teachers, when my expectations of school improvement are out of line, or to tell me that for profits have no real business in K-12 education (even when I was working for an education for-profit!).
She and my dad were my first teachers, and to this day, they haven’t asked to be excused from those positions. Every time I talk with my mom, I learn something new or get a new perspective on my job, my school board service, and my family. It is the never-ending lesson, in a good way.
So in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day (and this weekend’s Mother’s Day), I offer a big thank you to a truly terrific teacher, Mrs. Riccards (or Ma, or Grandma at this point). Know you are both loved and appreciated by generations of students who are better off for having crossed your path (no matter how tough you may have been in that classroom).