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Thank you, Mr. Olsen. Thank you Ms. Lee. Thank you Sister Claire. Thank you Mrs. Hildebrand.

My list is a long one. There are so many teachers who brought me to where I am in my life, and except for one or two, I have no idea where they are today. I went to Catholic school in Georgia until I was ten and then I mostly went to Department of Defense schools wherever the Army sent my dad.  I went to public schools in Fairbank at Ryan Jr. High and Queen Anne High School in Seattle and Box Elder High School in Brigham City, Utah and El Paso Community College in (not El Paso, but) Colorado Springs and then on to the University of Utah.

I had incredible teachers all my life. And I am not alone.

Follow NEA’s board National Teacher Day on Pinterest.

It is a common American experience to feel a connection to your schools and the people who touched your lives there. It is a historic American experience that some of our most revered, courageous social justice icons fought to give ALL children – no matter the color of their skin, the language they spoke, or where they found God – to be able to have a good public neighborhood school that cherished all of them.

In the beautiful month of May we commemorate a lawsuit that changed, literally, the face of public schools. Mr. Oliver Brown was a welder and part-time pastor in Topeka, Kansas.  His little girl, Linda, had been prevented from enrolling in the neighborhood public school and forced to walk six blocks to the bus stop and ride to an all-black school far from her house.  Mr. Brown was listed first in a string of plaintiffs who sued the Topeka Board of Education and so the case bears his name: Brown vs. The Board of Education.

But, as we know, winning a lawsuit doesn’t win hearts and minds.  Brown vs. the Board was only the beginning of one hard-fought win after another after another. It was a fight. Hearts were broken. Heads were broken. But the marches of the Civil Rights Movement marched us to this place today. Because enough hearts and minds were won, children have rights. 

They have a right to a clean building and paper and pencils and books and everything that goes with a quality public education. They have a right to have caring school support staff to feed them and maintain the building and answer the phones. And most of all, they have a right to a teacher who sees them as the miracles that they are and who opens them up to the possibilities of who they could become. They have a right to a loving, competent, prepared and passionate teacher.

It’s time to celebrate those teachers, preschool to graduate school.  Say thank you to your favorite teachers using the NEA hashtag – #thankateacher – on National Teacher Day May 6th. Or make a Vine video thanking a teacher in your life.

We are inspired by how far we’ve come. We are driven to move ever forward. But we cannot forget to stop every now and then and remember. And smile. And thank a teacher.

Thank you Dr. Sorensen. Thank you Mr. Larson. Thank you Mr. Fleming. Thank you Mrs. Stuart.


The NEA, Your Kids’ School and the Middle Seat

I travel a lot these days meeting with teachers and support staff and principals and parents and the press and anyone anywhere who wants to join hands and make good things happen for kids. I was on my way to Wichita to speak at a conference and the nice man in the middle seat started a nice conversation.

It always starts out nice.

“So, is Wichita home?” he nicely asks.

“No, I’m speaking at a teacher’s conference.”

“So, you a teacher?” he nicely asks.

“Yes, I’m a 6th grade teacher from Utah who works with the National Education Association. Kansas-NEA invited me to come talk about what we’re doing for our kids in the poorest neighborhoods and how we’re trying to recruit the best, most talented, most diversely-experienced teachers and support staff to work in their schools, and…”

(Click on image to see a video from Kansas NEA)

“NEA? I’ve heard about you guys,” he says not so nice.



Did You Do It On Purpose?

Yesterday I was on a distinguished panel. The title of the conference was on the banner above our heads: A Penny Saved – How School Districts Can Tighten Their Belts and Serve Kids Better.

I know when I’m being set up.

But I also know when I’ve been given an opportunity. I’m a fairly noisy teacher, and I don’t get asked to formal things like this often (at least I don’t get asked twice.) Just as well. I find that distinguished people are very polite even when they disagree with you. This audience was very polite and listened quietly, taking notes. Something that can be painfully unnerving to a 6th grade teacher.

The forum sponsors sent me research papers in advance that dealt with lists of ways school districts could save pennies like turning down the thermostats or firing teachers or charging families bigger fees for sports or music or AP classes.

I was supposed to react to their suggestions and offer my own about how we could “tighten our belts” and “serve kids better.”



Closing What Gaps?

I was recently honored to speak into a microphone in a Congressional hearing room and give my opinions about something called The Achievement Gap.

It is a heady thing to be asked to give your opinion. Into a microphone. With people taking notes. In seven minutes. Or less.

I am not a researcher. I am an excellent, professional, obviously humble 6th grade teacher from Utah. I have opinions on everything. And in this hearing room, with PhDs from Stanford and authors on best practices and researchers and statisticians, I had seven minutes to have folks understand, from the perspective of a practitioner, the opportunities and challenges and dangers of Closing the Achievement Gap between white children and children of other colors.

Would this audience understand we’re not talking about a test score? Would they understand that to define something as mind-blowingly complex as the achievement of a human-type child to a standardized test, you narrow what it means to teach and what it means to learn.

I was once on some talk show in Florida where a reporter said: Don’t you think you’re being a little hypocritical as a teacher being against tests.