People are quick to label individuals as heroes. The media stands at the vanguard of this tribute, relentlessly throwing accolades at entertainers, sports figures and shady politicians. Often too much praise is paid to these individuals when they are not ideal heroes for children to emulate. Yet millions of dollars are poured into advertisements to place these ersatz heroes high upon Mount Olympus. As the names are mentioned in the media, one might say, “How can he/she be a hero?” Each year as the list gets longer and more sports figures are at the top, more questions begin to surface as to how did it happen? The main line public cries for role models whose over-all character and altruism are symbolic of model heroes. When basketball great Charles Barkley was tagged as a role model, he lamented, “I am no hero for kids.” Barkley should be commended for his honesty and reasons why he should not be considered a hero. Others, however are not as brave, they continue to smile and pretend in the world of Madison Avenue while children want to be like them.
Why aren’t we looking elsewhere for heroes? Our children are caught up in a world of “want” and avarice materialism. Like their heroes they want money and glowing adulations before they reach adulthood. For many, school is a place to show off their opulence with fancy sneakers and ridiculous baggy clothes while forgetting that it is a place to gain knowledge from a forgotten hero, their teacher. Yes, teacher, the savior of many young minds that might have otherwise taken a negative path in life. These altruistic individuals have left their footprints in the great paths that lead young thinkers to industry, colleges, trades, medicine and many other professions that are instrumental in building America. Rarely do we hear the corporate CEO or the Wall Street banker praising their teachers, yet the beginning of that first block that would eventually make them millionaires was cemented by a caring teacher. Benevolent as he or she may have been, their salaries will never match some of their students, nor will they see bonuses equal to the corporate executive who sat in their math or history class. Now today, as budgets are being cut across the country, teachers are facing the challenge to hold on to their jobs. Sadly, no instant bail out funds are available for them, the government can only help the profit hungry capitalist. When was the last time you saw a Wall Streeter clean off school lunchroom tables, help a student look for lost keys in the garbage bag, or use their lunch time to tutor a student in math? Perhaps never, however these are just a few of the humanistic deeds performed by teachers during the day in conjunction with their main task of teaching and helping young minds to grow.
We all may have had at least one teacher who stood out in some way and was our secret hero. It may be many years down the road before we really appreciate what they did and often thought of how nice it would have been if I had only said “thanks.”
In these turbulent times for teachers when the prevailing wind is blowing stronger to once again question their status and financial livelihood, I ask that you do as I have done on many occasions, give thought and praise to the teachers who helped you structure you life. He or she may not have been the best dresser or drove the latest car, but what they did possess was a wealth of knowledge backed up with a room full of inspiring books, and most of all, a caring soul willing to listen and guide you through a difficult problem. Jacques Barzun, educator, historian, states in his classic book, Teacher in America, “An hour of teaching is certainly the equivalent to a whole morning of office work.” This is true, teaching is hard work. It requires a certain gift with indomitable strength.
There is nothing more rewarding to a teacher than when a former student acknowledges the kindness and academic help they provided while attending a particular school. It brings joy to my heart and I know that other educators feel the same. This is the big bonus for teachers. Teachers continue to provide unlimited services because children are at the center of their lives. As a nation observing local politicians eager to cut funds, it is not the time to bury teachers, it is time to praise them for the academic heroes they are.
Johnson Martin, Ph.D.