My “Back to School” Letter to Friends and Former Colleagues

To my dearest District 140 friends,

I realize you’re going back to school on Monday, so I wanted to wish you a superb and fulfilling school year, brimming with extraordinary students, and loads of good memories. Most of you are probably grumbling (aloud or otherwise) that “the summer went by too quickly,” that “you’re just not ready to go back yet,” and/or you want summer break to last just a little bit longer. But the larger reality is really not about you; it’s about what you’ve chosen to do as a career, and it’s about the students: the new students, the returning students, all of whom need your help, guidance, and instruction. It’s your job to help these students on their way to becoming critical thinkers, questioners, exemplary citizens.

I know it’s a big job. You know I’ve been there, and you know I’ve done that … but it’s a job that non-educators often see as a soft job or an easy job or even a job for which all of you are overly-compensated. They don’t understand. Because “They” have the most direct contact with Their children’s teachers, you are the first line of “offense,” the scapegoat. They don’t understand. Paraeducators, if They know educational support staff exists, may fall into the category of “Why are these people even being paid? Shouldn’t this be a volunteer position?” They don’t understand.

So many people believe that educators “get half a year off,” “are paid way too much,” or “have short work days.” Don’t get angry when confronted by Their complaints; help Them to understand. Never let Their ignorance get you down or affect how you do your job, for in society today, you’ve now been charged with educating Them as well. Be ready to hear or read Their criticism, but also be ready to happily explain to Them exactly what it is you do. Because They don’t understand. Tell Them how your days are rarely from opening bell to closing bell but often from well before the opening bell until late at night. How your weekends may be given over to grading, seminars, or even volunteering to chaperone or work Their child’s activities. How after-school activities, such as coaching, yearbook, etc., are done as a “part-time job.” How many of you have to take on a second (or in some cases more) job just to make ends meet. How in a few cases, some even have had to pay their employer to work so that their health insurance is covered. That you live in the school district and therefore are a taxpayer just as They are. Lofty explanations won’t make Them take notice; small, articulate, personal factors of an educator’s work life will.

This is no different from many “academics” I’ve known who continue to believe that those in the business world spend their carefree days with three-martini lunches, take home big bonuses all the time, and are rewarded with loads and loads of personal perks. Believe me, during my 20 years in advertising (always a good “assumption career”), I was lucky to attend an annual luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton provided by a magazine publisher from whom I contracted advertising space for a number of clients. It was always a lovely lunch, I was allotted one alcoholic beverage, and I had to listen to a speaker drone on and on about the charts and graphs that represented all the reasons why their publishing company was such a freakin’ success. That’s it. End of assumption about the glamorous world of business and advertising. But in the imagination of many, I was always going to lunches at places like that, sopping up all the free booze I could handle (and then some), and happily stumbling back to the office where all I had to do was put my feet up and play paddle ball … or take the rest of the day off.

Yes. That’s as far-fetched as the assumptions non-educators make about educators because those educators also forgot about the short-order cooks, the retail clerks, the stockboys, the social workers, etc. of the world.

Whether you are an administrator, a teacher, a paraeducator, a custodian, or a special services provider, you are an integrally-important part of the public school system. You provide many things to many people, not the least of which is being with Their children in an environment that They never will. You are many things to each any every child that comes into a school, classroom, or office. You are charged with teaching these children what they need to know, the importance of and how to think critically, what they need to develop within themselves so that they can go out into the world and be the kind of people we’d like them to be: positive contributors to a society that, unfortunately, desperately needs help.

You are charged with that daunting and overwhelming responsibility because you have chosen the career path that demands you fulfill those ideals, goals, requirements. And you can do it. And you will do it, staring on Monday, August 19, 2013, just as you have year after year. And I will be proud to say that I have worked with you.

Your friend and former colleague,

P.S. Don’t forget to fully-support your new colleagues who come to school fresh-faced and idealistic. Their training, if you recall from your own, didn’t fully prepare them for everything they’ll face in that first year. Help them. Support them. Guide them. Let them know they can come to you. Be there for them, and teach them that collaboration is an important part of any teacher’s success. By doing that, you’ll set an example from which the rest of the world needs to get a clue.

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