Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

An End Of An Era

In a little more than a month, my youngest daughter will be done with elementary school.  I spend so much time, going back through time in my mind to the days that both of my daughters were first placed in my arms to today.  My oldest has just about completed her first year of middle school, which is worthy of a post itself.

I look back at my own childhood, and the memories I have from elementary school, and the many teachers that had the first major impact on me, getting me to enjoy school.  And for me, it is that simple.  But now, as an adult, elementary school worth took on a whole new meaning.

I could not have been any more excited for the first days of school for my daughters.  First, I would ask off from work so that I could not only see the girls off to school, but took as many photos as I could of those first days, leaving the house, getting on the bus, to even entering the school.

From those “first” moments, my life as a father would change forever.

Monday begins Teacher Appreciation Week around the country.  And I do not think you will find anyone who appreciates teachers as much as I do, and my daughters are only mid-way through their education.

I remember all my teachers through elementary school, mostly by name, not necessarily for what they did for me, except for one, Mrs. McGuire.  I was quite sick and needed surgery during my first grade year.  She visited me and helped me with my homework while I recovered, yes, beyond the 9-3 school day.

My oldest would start elementary school officially in 2009.  The school district was going to be entrenched in a brutal contract negotiation, that would eventually result in a strike by the teachers.  Like many uninformed parents, I was irate that the beginning of the year was going to be delayed, which of course was going to have a last minute impact on finding child care to substitute for the absence of school.  “Those damn greedy teachers!  How dare they?”

But as quickly as those emotions came out, the school board released a full page color ad of the salaries of the teachers and union personnel of the district, of course to enflame the community.  My past experience as a victim of bullying, I saw this for what it was, bullying.  And immediately, that flipped a switch in my mind that something else was going on.  It was not as simple as it seemed.

In the meantime, the teachers returned back to school, and on the very first day, on a Thursday, at 7:45pm, and there is a reason I remember this exactly,  I received a call from my oldest daughter’s teacher.  She wanted to discuss a concern that she had about my daughter’s cognitive levels, especially with her being internationally adopted.  We spent more than 45 minutes on the phone.  Now keep in mind, this teacher had two young children of her own, but contrary to the popular myth, teachers days do go beyond the hours of 9am to 3pm.  Instead of spending time with her own children, she was helping me, to address a concern with mine.  There are countless examples of this throughout both of my daughters educations.

Teachers have almost as important role in the lives of our children as we, the parents.  Teachers spend more time during the awake hours with our children, not just teaching our children, English, Math, History and such, but often times, lessons about life that we do not have the simple answers to, many times uncomfortable.

I will never forget the care given to not just my daughters, but to all the students who would hear of the horrible massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Even small children know that they should be safe in school.  Sandy Hook changed that not only for the children who heard about the horror, but teachers soon found out, that in spite of the slaughter at Columbine High School years before, violence could even reach the elementary levels.  Now, teachers not only put their heath at risk with contagious germs and such, but were now expected to physically guard our children.  I am certain, this was definitely not dealt with in college when they studied to be a teacher.

My personal experiences with the teachers at my daughters elementary school also had a major impact.  The uncertainty of my health, led to many instances of an emergency phone call to the school, with last minute instructions for care, transportation, and sometimes, explanations.  And every time it happened, and there were a lot, the teachers responded with such assurance and professionalism, which made each incident a lot less traumatic, not having to deal with the stress of the care of the girls.  I always knew they were in good hands.

And no parent wants to get the phone call, “your daughter’s school bus was involved in an accident.”  But I got one of those phone calls, and again, the school staff handled everything perfectly.

During that first year of my oldest’s school year, I paid a lot of attention to the negotiations of the teachers contract negotiations.  I began to attend district meetings, noticing more things that did not make sense, and clearly came to the conclusion that the teachers were being made scapegoats for a situation that the school board had created.  It was very easy to fool the taxpayers who were just as uninformed as I had once been.  My voice by itself, along with a barrage of letters to the local newspaper opinion columns was not enough.

And so began my short political career, as I decided I would campaign for school board in the next election.  Along with four other candidates, and a great campaign committee, I spent the next six years, dissecting the business and activities of the school district.  Clearly things could be improved, but I definitely felt it was not the fault of the teachers as it was being made to believe.

Along with my school board campaign, I also became more involved in my daughters school activities, participating in their parent organization, an anti bullying campaign, and even managed to have some extra curricular fun, volunteering as the “official” school disc jockey for fun events made even more popular with fun music.  My daughters were split on just how cool it was to have “dad” DJing, but their friends always encouraged them that their “dad was cool!”

Over three years ago, the direction of our family took a dramatic turn that none of us had ever expected, divorce.  And with that, came separation from my daughters.  But the staff of the school, as they had done the previous years, stepped up as they always had, realizing that even the distance between my daughters and I, I was going to continue to be involved in my daughters educations, as much if not more, as when I had been local.  Teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, the principal, everyone has done everything I could ever ask, when it came to helping me, help my daughters with their educations.  From studying for a test, to making sure homework got done, the staff has always been there.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week.  And you better believe it, I appreciate the teachers that my daughters had, teachers that other children have, friends of mine who are teachers, and the ones who started it all for me, my teachers.  Teachers are full time workers who put their health and their safety at risk every day.  Their day begins when they step through the entrance of the school, but does not end, well beyond exiting those same doors.  Teachers have homework or tests to correct, preparations for the next day lessons, and of course, there are the personal correspondences to reach parents whose children are struggling in school.  I know there is more that they do, but I can only talk about what I have experienced.  I am not a teacher.  But they know what all they do in a day for children.  And so for that, I publicly say thank you.  And keep up the good work.

And to the staff at my daughters elementary school, I am so thankful to each and every one of you.  My daughters have so many positive memories.  You kept them safe, and as I found out with my oldest daughter in her first year of middle school, you did a great job preparing my oldest as she has done well so far after three marking periods.

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2 thoughts on “An End Of An Era

  1. Lynn Boddy on said:

    Thank you, Paul. As a retired teacher, everything you wrote is true. I am always grateful to read supportive accounts of how parents feel about teachers. I recently ran into a Mom, who thanked me for teaching her daughter in 4th grade. She is now a nurse.
    I’m happy your daughter’s are doing well in school. I fight for our public schools every day.

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