May 7, 2010

Hot for Teacher

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , at 9:29 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s teacher appreciation week. It should be teacher appreciation century.

Yes, I’m a bit biased toward my brethren. I hail from three generations of public school servants, beginning with my grandmother who instructed kindergarteners for the better part of thirty years, back in the day when a college education for a woman was still a bit unusual. My mother was a teacher as well, and since she labored in a different district than my own we were rarely able to share our winter breaks together. I spent most of mine (until I rebelled as a teen) working alongside my grandma in her brightly colored, meticulously organized classroom, debating with five-year-olds whether or not March would come in like a lion or a lamb. Every year was a cliff-hanger.

I followed in my family’s footsteps as well (although I SWORE I wouldn’t), and spent half-a-decade instructing pre-teens in the District of Columbia public schools, and another seven with the same age group in northern Virginia. People are always shocked when I inform them that the latter gig was often more difficult than the former. At times, nothing is more daunting than a stay-at-home mom from the suburbs. I should know, as I now am one.

Just recently this particular former educator watched incredulously as most of New Jersey’s school budgets got voted down, and trust me, the incredulous part was that I was actually surprised after years of watching history repeat itself. Our town in Ocean County is notorious for not passing the school budget, and I think I finally understand why. An elderly woman was recently quoted in our local daily as voting against it “because the governor told her to” and “because those raises the teachers receive have gotten out of hand.” On this issue, of course, she is completely correct. After taxes, that annual cost of living adjustment educators take home may actually enable them to afford an extra night out at our local movie theater PLUS the 3-D glasses and the jumbo popcorn, when, of course, they really should just be home toiling over lesson plans. Sounds like granny knows her stuff.

Despite what people think, we know what we’re getting into when we sign on for this gig, and we know the benefits aren’t glamorous. I’ve been fortunate to work with many extremely dedicated individuals over the tenure of my career, and most of them had no qualms about putting in ten to twenty hours weekly over contract (that means working for free) so that their students could get the education they deserved, not the education they were legally entitled to receive. We’re not out for the insane perks of movie stars (although a well-thought out end-of-year gift is deeply appreciated), but a little respect is in order.

I’ve read articles on the fall-out of the budget failures in the Garden State, and while I was relieved that most special education programs won’t financially be affected (it’s not worth the districts’ time in court), there is no guarantee the integrity of various programs won’t be compromised due to teacher RIF. There are going to be a great deal of pink slips handed out in the next two weeks, and most of those educators will be forced to wait weeks or months to find out if they have continued employment, or even what options are available in other districts.  Some of them will be rehired. Some will be scrambling. This uncertainty will, without question, cause great consternation for parents of children in special education classrooms. Believe me, nothing strikes fear into the hearts of parents of disabled kids like the threat of losing a seasoned and caring teacher. I am certain however, no matter what the outcome, the vast majority will do their utmost to diligently enact their students’ IEPs in the untenable interim.

It is in this anxious atmosphere, this climate of uncertainty, that I must take a few moments to praise my peers, at least the ones that have had a direct impact on my oldest child. I will go on record as saying if Justin hadn’t been eligible for the well-constructed pre-school program he attended several years ago, despite my fifteen months as his primary educator in Virginia, I am certain he would not even closely resemble the child he has matured into today. His ability to read, to spell, to attempt math problems despite the disability his mother passed down to him in the latter subject, are all directly attributable to the hard work and diligence of the women (it’s usually women) who toiled to tame my rather wild child four years ago this fall.

The last two years he’s been able to continue in this academic vein, and with the support of his elementary teacher and ancillary staff has also finally learned the concept that waiting for gratification is not necessarily evil, and being denied a coveted object will not result in his untimely demise. Collectively, the practitioners of the last four years have shaped him, and helped mold him into the bright, happy, and somewhat more compliant individual he is today. There is no doubt in my mind that I, and my family, would not be reaping the benefits of his far more peaceful soul if he had not been immersed in a cocoon of educational excellence. My husband and I are eternally grateful.

Our youngest as well has recently been drafted into a special education program for children who reside on the milder end of the spectrum, and I’ve seen almost miraculous results in just the few months he’s been attending school. After more than a year of attempts to rewire his brain to facilitate real and meaningful language we are finally having conversations, ones in which I don’t supply the answers for him after tortuous deathly pauses. He initiates his own queries now, discusses his day, has even tattled on a classmate on occasion (I know the names of a few tantrum-prone gentlemen to date). Zach loves school, practically runs over me to get to the bus in the morning, and would be perfectly content to eject his parents from his household and have his teacher move in permanently to care for him.

On certain days, Jeff and I have considered that option.

Things haven’t been perfect for either child. There have been bumps in the long and windy path of education, much as there are in life. Mistakes have been made (mostly on my part), errors rectified. They’ve all been a learning experience (again, mostly for me).

I just want to say this is one family who deeply appreciates the commitment, the care, and the dedication that has been bestowed upon our children in their educational realm. Happy children create happy families, and at least in our case, happier marriages as well. I am grateful for the effort, and I thank all those teachers who have directly influenced my children’s lives, and all those who work so diligently despite budget cuts, furloughs, and hiring freezes to improve other children’s lives as well.

Thank you, truly, and happy Teacher Appreciation Week!


  1. Lori said,

    What a nice blog. I’m glad that your sons have such wonderful teachers in their lives

  2. misifusa said,

    As always, you are on target…Praise all teachers this week, next week and the weeks and months ahead for all that they accomplish by their diligence, knowledge and infinite patience. I’m so grateful for the teachers your children have known as well as those who have taught my own boys. May much applause abound for the unsung heroes of education!
    P.S. Great lunch today!

    • Hey, running out the door with J, but thanks hon, and yes, a FABULOUS lunch! SO APPRECIATE your time this morning, as always!

  3. Naomi Seligman said,

    Couldn’t agree more that happy kids = a happy family. Our kids teachers and their schools are such an important part of the equation. So glad to hear that your boys are both in good, nurturing environments even when they are away from you.

  4. Kathy Milmore said,

    Teachers are definitely unsung heroes, if I do say so myself… And vastly underpaid for taking care of our most precious natural resource.

  5. Jenn said,

    Well said! My son is getting ready to go onto kindergarten, leaving the safe cocoon of his spectacular special education teachers. He’s thrilled right down to his flapping hands, tippy toes and nonsense chirrups. Im terrified! LOL
    Awesome blog, thank you for sharing your moments!

  6. Jennifer Haftel said,

    This note is written with gratitude and thanks to all the teachers who so deeply care about their students education and lives.

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