Friday, November 6, 2009

Day by Day, Child by Child

On November 3, teachers gathered for our annual convocation and celebration of teaching and teachers. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Krista Ramsey was keynote speaker. Her remarks:

I work on the 19th floor of the Enquirer building, on the corner of Elm and 3rd streets very close to the Ohio River and, during baseball season, every time the Reds hit a home run, there are fireworks and, for a minute, everybody downtown stops working and takes notice.

I think the Ohio Department of Education, when it releases its list of Excellent schools, should set off fireworks across the state, in the middle of the day. It would be cool for every community with an excellent school system to hear the commotion and look up at the sky and say, hey, they’re winning!

But that, as we all know, is not how things work in the world of education. Unlike professional athletes, you are the quiet heroes. Your stunning plays are getting the girl who sits glowering in the back row to finally join a discussion. Your perfect record is 10 years of driving a bus accident free, keeping dozens of children safe day after day after day.

Your “save” is keeping the districts’ computers up and running every day, or filling every classroom that needs one with an excellent substitute teacher – or sending out good, clear information on the H1N1 virus, and patiently answering all the questions from angry, confused and frustrated parents that follow.

Your victories are quiet victories. If you waited for the fireworks, you’d wait your entire career. But you – and sometimes only you – know what you have won at the end of the day. You know when you see the socially-awkward kid who always glides along the edge of the hallway so no one notices him; suddenly find a friend in your classroom.

You know when the parents who have resisted for so long finally agree to have their child tested for learning disabilities.

You know when you as a guidance counselor have a student walk into your office to show you her college acceptance letter – and you know she’ll be the first generation in her family ever on a college campus.

You win when they win – when those children in your care as a principal or classroom aide or music teacher or basketball coach or food service worker or psychologist lose a little bit of their self-doubt or find the first inkling of something they’re good at.

But there are long stretches when you don’t think you’re winning at all. I was a teacher for eight years and I remember those stretches. I remember watching my 7th bell class walk out of my room – they were ALWAYS the rowdiest, most disrespectful class – and swearing that I was going to immediately go and apply to be one of those people who holds the SLOW and STOP signs on the highway crews.

Today I work on a daily newspaper. Every day, I have to produce a brand-new product. Every time I make a mistake, 200,000 people see it – and it seems like 50,000 blog about it. I am part of the media, surely one of the most suspect groups of workers in the world. And every day I have to answer to big and hairy editors who like to scream in people’s faces. And let me tell you, everything I do is way easier than being a classroom teacher.

I have been on the editorial board for the last six years, and in that position I have met with governors, ambassadors, presidential candidates, senators, county commissioners, Cabinet members, college presidents and CEOs. Some I have admired, some I have not. But over that time, I have come to realize that virtually none of them are the people who really hold the world together. The people who do that are far too busy to come in and meet with editorial boards. They are working in emergency rooms and counseling troubled teenagers, and doing therapy with stroke victims and caring for foster children and working in public schools.

YOU are the people who keep the world from splintering into pieces.

And if you’re tired of the feeling that the world expects you fix everything from teenage drinking to childhood obesity to bad grammar to poor hygiene, all I can say is I’m sorry.

Maybe we don’t actually EXPECT it, but we certainly do hope it.

You are the people we turn to again and again

  • to care for children who aren’t cared for anywhere else
  • to reach out to parents who have no one to turn to for advice
  • to model kind, considerate behavior for children who have been abused and neglected
  • to move the next generation of Americans to a new level of competence and creativity
  • to prepare today’s children for the world of tomorrow
  • to encourage, embolden and inspire.

Never think for a moment that your words or your actions are simply bouncing off the children you serve. Somewhere in this school year, every one of you will take some action that will change a child’s life.

It may be a simple kindness that made an unbearable day bearable. It may be praise that erases the misery of being absolutely average. It may be a second chance for a child who has almost resigned himself to being a failure.

Sometime this year, you will say something positive to a child that you will forget the next day, but that child will remember for the rest of his life.

There is no power on earth greater than that power.

So I challenge you to carry on with excellence. Not one drop of your energy, your intelligence, your passion, your compassion will be wasted.

I leave you today with one of my favorite quotes. The first time I read it, it was attributed to Shaquille O’Neal, but I came to find out he actually borrowed it from Socrates.

It is this: Excellence is a habit. We are what we repeatedly do.

Thank you for creating excellence day by day and child by child.


A former teacher, Krista Ramsey is columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer. She serves on their Editorial Boad. For a PDF copy of Krista's remarks, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment