This time of year, we celebrate some of our most cherished holidays. And whether you wish someone a "Merry Christmas", "Happy Hanukkah", or some other salutation, we often follow it with "..and a Happy New Year!"
Happiness. It's all we really want, isn't it? We want our children to grow up safe, happy, confident. We want our work to count for something. We want to be appreciated and loved and to love others in return.
Last night, I ran into a dear friend who I taught jr. high with for several years. I had not seen her in a very long time and it was so good to catch up. This good woman has dedicated decades of her life to the children in the often-awkward years of jr. high. When musing on whether she would ever move into the high school realm, you could see a smile in her eyes as she exclaimed, "but I really love the jr. high kids". And she does.
Every year she puts on the most amazing Dutch-Oven Cook-off you've ever seen. People come from all over the community to watch all of the 9th graders compete for 1st place. She deals with health departments, parents, hundreds of students and several morehundred recipes, to pull off one day of delicious, high-calorie, community fun. You gotta love a teacher like that!
Good teachers are to be celebrated...and they are everywhere. They also deserve to be protected. And when school boards and districts create "good fences" in their schools, they protect good teachers and their reputations. Establishing guidelines of professional conduct ensure that a well-meaning teacher doesn't get wrongfully accused of inappropriate behaviors. For example, many a sweet teacher has picked up a student walking home in the snow and offered a ride home. However, with proper training, that teacher can see that it is better to allow that student to walk home in the snow than to teach them to get in the car alone with adults, as not every adult can be trusted. If you are truly concerned, hand them your coat and let them return it tomorrow.
Good teachers can agree that windows in classrooms should never be blocked. This gives their classroom a higher level of transparency, establishing an increased level of comfort for students, parents, administrators and themselves.
Good teachers can be taught to make sure that when a student is alone in a classroom with them, the door remains unlocked at all times. Something that seems like such a "no-duh" rule to most, would have saved countless students from sexual abuse in our schools.
Good teachers should be taught that they can use modern technology, such as texting, email, and social media to communicating with students about tests, homework and grades, while still maintaining a high level of professionalism by including parents and administrators.
The great teachers I know are tired of feeling as if the world hates teachers. They are tired of not being appreciated for the work they do. The hours they put in. The genuine love and caring they feel for their students. And when we allow our system to continually re-license sexual predators, stalkers, and drug dealers (and we do), we cast a shadow of doubt over all of the teachers in our system. And that isn't fair.
The percentage of abusers in our system is very small. But the damage is not. Each offender not only has multiple student victims, but they also harm the reputations of all of the amazing teachersthat we want in our system. Let's change the system. Let's require schools to develop and maintain a level of professionalism and transparency that restores the trust throughout our system. Let's require strict standards of behavior for those holding licenses to teach. Let's ensure that districts can communicate their concerns to one another in the hiring processes. In short, let's protect our Most Sacred Trust and ensure that our students AND our wonderful teachers all have a happy New Year.