One Kid's Experience in Public School

An apple for the teacherNot everyone is thrilled with the public-school experience. Overcrowded classrooms, overworked staff, and students who'd rather be just about anywhere else are some of the more common complaints I've heard, and read, from parents who have kids in the public school system. As the parent of a student now on the final leg of her journey through that system, I can sympathize. But I can't empathize, really, because for some reason our experience has been decidedly more positive than otherwise.

Last night, my daughter told me she had e-mailed a number of teachers from her past—those she was able to track down anyway—just to say hello, and maybe exchange notes on current events in their respective lives. A few responded almost immediately, evidently having been at their computers when the message arrived. Some had moved into entirely new curricula, and some were teaching at different schools; others were exactly where they had been during my daughter's time in their classrooms. But none had any difficulty placing their former student, even though it's been well over ten years in some cases. Teachers' pet, maybe? Not really. When I think back to those early years, the consistent elements are honesty, fairness, and integrity; those are the attributes of the teachers who've made all the difference. The same elements define my daughter's personality, and it's this commonality, I think, that's permitted the kind of warm, personal bond that continues to characterize my daughter's relationships with her teachers even now, during her senior year of high school.

Some teachers have a negative reputation among the students, which typically involves labels such as "tough," "mean," "unfair," or some similarly disparaging term. Sometimes the terminology is considerably more vulgar, but you get the idea. Interestingly, those are the very teachers with whom my daughter has so often found the best relationships. Their assignments may be demanding and their rules firm, but fairness has never been an issue, and the related traits of honesty and integrity generally manifest themselves as well. In fact, I can think of one in particular—no, make that several—who went beyond the call of duty and squarely into the realm of fearless advocate. What an excellent example for my young student. What an excellent example for us all.

To be sure, a student's positive public-school experience isn't entirely up to the teacher; there has to be something coming from the student, and also from that student's parents. It's a group effort, and more than mere serendipity. Students who spend the bulk of their time watching TV aren't likely to be reading at the same time, and reading happens to be a crucial element in any educational context, public or private. And while there are obvious benefits associated with a well-funded school district versus one that's struggling to provide the essentials, this doesn't entirely account for the difference, either. My daughter has attended public schools on both ends of that spectrum, and found the same honesty, fairness, and integrity among teachers in both.

And yet, I know it isn't quite that simple. Sometimes you can do everything just right and still wind up living in a world where everything goes terribly wrong. While it's abundantly obvious that single parents can provide the sort of environment in which students thrive, anyone in that situation knows how challenging it is to be in several places at once, and more challenging yet, to assume the role of more than one person. As a single parent, I know something about that. And for many, this is only the tip of the iceberg; there are problems entirely beyond the scope of outstanding public-school teachers, or competent parenting, or even a lack of money in some cases.

Anyway, from one proud parent to all the public-school teachers out there who've made all the difference: Thanks! We couldn't have done it without you.


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