OPINION: Appreciating teachers

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By Marian Wright Edelman

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

May 6-10 is Teacher Appreciation Week this year, but in an era of headlines and concern about burnout and stress, I join many others who believe teachers should be applauded and deeply appreciated all year long. We know teachers are not sufficiently valued in our society if we measure their worth by money – yet, after parents, teachers are probably the greatest influencers and molders of children’s futures. For many teachers and educators, it is not money that keeps them in this profession, but better salaries would still enable many more qualified people to enter and remain in it. We must do much more to recognize the importance of teaching in our nation and celebrate the best educators in a very visible way. Being the kind of educator who consistently nurtures, respects, and inspires the students in their care is a special calling, and we all owe an immense debt of gratitude to every professional who answers this call.

How many of us still have wonderful memories about our own favorite teachers? When I was a child my teachers joined our parents and other community members in weaving a seamless safety net of caring for children, and provided buffers of love and encouragement that helped combat the negative influences of segregated small-town southern life. They were role models who didn’t equate book smarts with common sense or goodness, but always stressed the importance of education as a means to help improve the lives of others and leave our community and world better than we found it. They were also dedicated to working with children and young adults to set high standards and made clear their own belief that every student could achieve at high levels. All young people need adults who believe in them and expect them to achieve, who love them, and whom they love so much that they live up to their expectations of success. I wish for these kinds of teachers for every student.

The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools program is especially proud that so many of the college-aged Servant Leader Interns (SLIs) who are trained to teach at CDF Freedom Schools sites every summer go on to pursue careers in education and become these teachers and mentors for the next generation. I will never forget the indomitable Dr. Maya Angelou speaking at the graduation of our first small class of CDF Freedom Schools SLIs nearly 30 years ago. She engulfed us with her passion and confidence in them: “Let me tell you who you are. You are the rainbow in the clouds for people whose faces you have not seen yet, whose names you don’t know yet, whose histories you haven’t been told yet. And you are, each one of you, individually, privately, each one of you is a rainbow chosen to be in the clouds for somebody.”

Every teacher has the unique opportunity to be that rainbow of hope for their students. Children and young people need adults who never give up on them, are constantly searching for their special gifts, and who refuse to let them fail. The best teachers do this every day. This week is a special reminder to thank all who are already doing their part to transform young people’s chances and our nation’s future by mentoring, challenging, nurturing, and inspiring the students in their care right now.

Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of Children’s Defense Fund. For more information, go to childrensdefense.org.

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OPINION: Appreciating teachers

By Jackson Advocate News Service
May 13, 2024