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Taking Care of Teachers

Taking Care of Teachers

Kevin Bibo |

A dear friend once asked me this question: “If you and the person most dear to you were on a sinking ship and there was only one life preserver, would you give it to your loved one, or keep it for yourself?” Taken aback I thought for a moment, and then replied, “give it to my loved one?” His response, “then you both drown.” (Isn’t that a pleasant thought?) So, I asked, “Why?” My friend explained that if I gave away the one thing I knew would save my life then I would be forfeiting not only my own life, but my ability to save my loved one’s life as well. If I kept the life preserver for myself, then I would ensure that we both would successfully make it to safety. What does this have to do with teaching? Teachers need to wear the life preservers in their classrooms.

That’s a funny visual, and obviously I am writing metaphorically here, but you get my point, right? If the teacher is not taken care of, how can he or she successfully provide for the educational needs of the students? Some teachers are forced to teach in rat-hole classrooms, with substandard lighting, poor electrical, exposed asbestos, and broken windows that will not open or close. (Actually, I just described my classroom before modernization.) With all of the money being spent on education, I wonder how much of it will go towards simply making our classrooms safe to occupy? Will there be a focus on ensuring a truly safe learning environment for kids that won’t make inhabitants sick? I recently wrote about shopping for an expensive new teacher chair. A blog reader noted that I shouldn’t have to pay for my own chair in my own classroom. I forgot.

However, a teacher’s comfort in the classroom is critically important. Comfortable clothes, comfortable (but fashionable) shoes, and a working heating and cooling unit with an adjustable thermostat are all vital for the teacher’s comfort. Comfort alone is not enough; teachers need support. Support from administrators, support from the district office, and most importantly support from the parents of our students. I am one of the few who feel that teachers don’t need much support from either the state or the feds. Too many teachers feel unheard, unappreciated, and un-respected. Voices from outside of education penetrate our world. They tell us that we stink at what we do and can do it better. That’s sort of like me telling my brain surgeon how to operate on me while he’s operating. Teachers are professionals who have spent their entire lives involved in their profession.

Teachers should be happy. Crabby teachers are no fun. They are fun to pick on and make fun of, but no fun to be around. Sure, a crabby teacher can offer excellent lessons, but that’s only part of the teacher’s job. A happy teacher can do that, and make the students feel wonderful about learning, about school, and about themselves. I believe that happy teachers are better teachers than crabby teachers because they not only instruct, but inspire. They not only enlighten students, but encourage. They not only assess students, but also assist to improve the lives of each individual pupil. Plus, almost everyone enjoys the company of happy people. I believe that it is possible that the demeanor of the teacher in the classroom can attract more students to learn, regardless of the subject matter.

Last summer I was asked to write 16 exclusive articles for Teaching. This is number 16. I have written and shared my thoughts about and experiences with many teacher topics that I hope the readers have found to be useful. As I shared my own reflections on teaching, I hope that above all I have encouraged other teachers to take time to reflect on their own teaching. Reflection is an invaluable process that, in my humble opinion, is also the most effective way to improve as a teacher. I believe that spending time reviewing our personal successes and failures in the classroom can lead each individual teacher towards more prosperous pupils and a more thriving teaching career. Teachers are special and unique people who are real heroes to their students because they actively contribute towards making the world a better place both to live in today and for tomorrow.

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