by Dr. Jill Klefstad - UW Stout

Summertime brings celebrations; many which pay tribute and honor to those who have gone before us. At the end of May, we celebrated Memorial Day; a day dedicated to the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. On July 4th we commemorated our freedom and on Labor Day we will honor working people. Each of us pay tribute in our own way through our celebrations of these holidays.

The word honor has multiple meanings that include; regard with great respect, a privilege, and fulfilling an obligation. After spending a few days in my daughter’s first-grade classroom last spring, I began to see how some teachers fulfill obligations to children, their families, and the school community. This was enlightening for me because when observing college pre-service students in classrooms, I only notice portions of the classroom routine. Becoming an active participant in Erica’s classroom and engaging in the day to day happenings resulted in a deeper respect and honor for teachers. Below are some key aspects that impact the teaching profession today and give reason to honor teachers.

The Environment
Teachers recognize the role that the environment plays in children’s learning; from the home, to the school setting, to individual classrooms. We identify children who have come from nurturing homes and those children who may need some extra loving care. As a university supervisor I find that each school as well as each teacher’s classroom room has its own culture or feel to it. During some of the visits, I feel very welcome while other times the initial encounter is somewhat disconcerting. For example, depending on the established protocol of the school, sometimes I am required to just sign in and wear a school badge, whereas other times, background checks are conducted before I visit. Upon entering the school, the district’s philosophy of teaching and learning is written on the walls. The philosophy upholds the tenets of respect and commitment to reaching all children. It is also the foundation in each classroom where teachers outline behavior expectations that uphold mutual respect between student and teacher.

Let us honor those teachers who create safe environments where children feel secure and begin building trust with other adults.

The Curriculum
The one area that intrigues me the most as an educator and is constantly evolving is the curriculum used in classrooms. Despite our commitment to reach all children, the mandates at the state and national level expect us to teach, test, and collect data that proves we are effective teachers. The curriculum is often ‘canned’ providing limited opportunity to incorporate experiences whereby children make discoveries on their own. Teachers are also directed to teach the same subject at the same time using the same lesson. This process eliminates teacher autonomy and creativity resulting in failure to meet the needs of children. Just as children do not all learn the same way, teachers should not be expected to deliver the curriculum in similar styles. Instead of embracing the uniqueness of children and teachers, we are insisting that all things look the same.

Let us honor teachers who find a balance in teaching the provided curriculum but also strive to meet the individual needs of each child.

The Children
It has long been said that children are the product of their environment. From the onset of public education, teachers have been challenged to create open relationships with parents that will best serve the needs of children. However, teachers find that children of parents who are fearful and hesitant to create a bond with the teacher are the most challenging to reach. Moreover, identifying and satisfying the needs of all children in our classrooms seems to be beyond one teacher’s abilities. As an early childhood educator, we understand the meaning of educating the ‘whole child’ and plan experiences that promote a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive growth. Believing in this philosophy we question current practice of eliminating recess, time for free play for children, outdoor play, the over-use of a canned curriculum and our strategies of discipline. We become disheartened when children say ‘no’ to us and demonstrate defiance by throwing objects such as chairs, forcing us to call for ‘back up’. Educators work hard to create safe spaces for all children to learn but are challenged by the behaviors of children and lack of support from administration and families.

Let us honor teachers who despite setbacks and challenges with children continue to be a positive role model who provides unconditional love to all children.

The Leadership
As with any organization, the success of the institution depends upon the vision and behavior of the leader. A strong leader displays integrity, values the efforts of each constituent, is an effective communicator who models the mission and vision of the school while empowering those around them. Most importantly, the leader emotionally supports the teachers by creating an environment of mutual respect. In schools where there is a breakdown of this scenario, teachers are pitted against teachers creating a climate that is competitive and detrimental to all. Any of us who have served in leadership positions recognize the uncontrollable forces playing against us as leaders. We often reevaluate our personal feelings, thoughts, and position of authority. Personally, if this occurs, I tend to resort to a statement a former principal and administrator, Craig believed., ‘what is best for students’? Making choices based on students can justify many decisions you must make as administrator.

Schools have changed drastically since my days as a kindergarten teacher. I can still recall the challenging children that I was unable to reach because of the lack of parental support. However, I also remember feeling valued and respected for my ideas. I was required to follow a ‘canned curriculum’ yet had opportunities to infuse the materials with experiences so that the whole child would develop. Most importantly, I felt the support from my principal who understood the development of young children and challenged my thinking in a way that pushed me to think in broader terms.

Let us honor administrators and leaders who make choices based on what is best for the children and for their teachers.

The Teachers
Committed to their own ethical beliefs and high standards, I observed most teachers working diligently to bring joy to their teaching. Sadly, there has not been one seasoned teacher I have talked with over the past three years who is content with their teaching. I am discovering that burnout continues to occur among the novice teacher to the seasoned teacher. This is due in part to teachers being directed on what to teach, how to teach, and when to teach. Grade levels plan together; a novel concept with good intentions. However, teachers do not all teach that same and are given limited freedom to best utilize their skills. We have eliminated the autonomy once allotted to teachers to instruct with their hearts thus making it difficult to be passionate about their work.

Let us honor all who have chosen teaching as their profession. “Teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions”.

Despite the challenges and trials of teaching, we as teachers must learn to profess with confidence, both by words and actions, that what we do is best for students. Perhaps then, the public will recognize the importance of teachers and see teaching as a noble profession.

May the beginning of the new school year affirm those who have chosen to fulfill their teaching obligations with dignity while embracing the privilege of teaching the young. May each day find something that makes them feel honored and treasured in the work they do.

[MenTeach: Dr. Jill has been working to increase and retain men in her education program.]