The Backbone of Society

pencils in stainless steel bucket
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It’s that time of year when the sun bears down hotter than ever and we feel as though we are in the true grip of summer, which means it must be nearing the end of July and the time to purchase those school supplies. I still work with a handful of kids so I usually head for the stores about now to replace my Expo markers, pencils, spiral notebooks and such. The prices are just too good to ignore, and come January not only will everything cost more but it will be difficult to find.

Lots of big box stores are offering discounts to teachers which is a grand idea because every educator that I ever knew spent a good portion of the first paycheck of the school year readying the classroom. I kept mountains of lined paper, sharpened pencils, and pens in my cupboard for those students who came in without supplies. I never minded helping out even those who carelessly came to class without the things they needed. I had no patience with lecturing them about being responsible during the short time allotted to me for teaching them mathematical concepts. It was far easier to just wordlessly point them to the table where I always had some necessary items waiting for anyone in need. The remarkable thing is that the students often rewarded my generosity by repaying me with even more than they had initially taken, so I rarely ran out of my little offerings for them.

I wanted to have an inviting classroom so I was one of those teachers who joined the crowd at the teacher supply store that used to be a big draw in southeast Houston. It was like Christmas in July as my fellow educators filled the parking lot and jammed the aisles with carts filled with all of the items that might make the classroom environment more exciting for the kids. I got tired of the crank pencil sharpener breaking down at an inopportune moment, so I invested in a heavy duty electric one that cost almost a hundred dollars. It was quite an extravagance but it lasted until the day I retired at which time I passed it on to my nephew along with the mathematical manipulatives, and algebraic thinking books that I used for problem solving sessions.

I’d be at the school readying my classrooms days before the official return date. I learned over the years that administrators provide very little time for the actual process of putting a classroom in working order in the frantic week before the students arrive. Somehow principals always seem to think that the lovely environments created by the staff just miraculously pop up like mushrooms over night. Luckily I learned the tricks of the trade over time from real pros who had stayed the course and demonstrated their dedication to the ideals of teaching.

The teachers in Texas will receive a raise of some kind this year depending on how each school district decides to dole out the funds provided by the state legislature. It isn’t a great deal of money, but every little bit counts. No doubt much of it will be poured right back into the classrooms by educators eager to make a difference to their students. Altruism runs deeply in the hearts of most of the teachers I have known. Those who are less concerned about the welfare of their students usually burn out in a few years and head for more lucrative and less stressful careers.

Society spends a great deal of time discussing the pros and cons of the worth of teachers. What they rarely discuss is how exceedingly devoted the vast majority of them are. Theirs is a difficult job beyond measure. The rewards rarely come in the form of pay or bonuses. Instead they receive intangible feelings of great purpose, a sense of doing something special for thousands of individuals, many of whom rarely stop to realize how much teachers are responsible for the successes that they ultimately achieve.

I was listening to a discussion of how various occupations are valued. Most of the time the highest paying professions are the ones that return most monetary compensation to a company. Invariably such analyses point out that teachers do not generate income therefore they are more of a drain on resources. Such thinking contributes to the lower salaries that educators have historically made. In truth each teacher ultimately provides vast amounts of capital to the economy. It does not happen directly, but over time the students that educators have prepared will enter the workforce and contribute mightily to the coffers. Teachers are the foundation of the economic system, helping to mold future doctors, lawyers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. Bill Gates certainly has a level of natural genius, but along the way there were teachers who helped him to become the person that he is today. Educators are the silent force that keeps our world moving forward, and they do it without a great deal of fanfare or recompense.

I applaud any efforts to recognize our nation’s teachers. In reality we should be celebrating them even more than we presently do. They are the backbone of any nation, in many ways the most important people in society. You may soon see them in a Target or Walmart near you. They will be the ones filling their carts with extra supplies to make life better for your children. The least you might do is to thank them.