The man who walked into my office carrying a chainsaw a few weeks ago is now stuck in a jail cell.
In all likelihood, he’ll be behind bars for a very long time, and I don’t think anyone who knows him is surprised. My former client has been struggling to survive since he was released from prison only a couple of years ago. And while he’d most likely been involved in criminal behavior for which he wasn’t caught (the origins of that chainsaw he was selling to raise money to pay his electric bill are highly dubious), his luck ran out this week. He never really had much of a chance anyway. Growing up, he had too many strikes against him.
And if common sense isn’t enough to tell us that the more negative experiences a person has in childhood, the less likely they are to succeed as adults, science has now proven it. But this doesn’t mean we should give up. Research has also shown that positive relationships with caring adults can help mitigate the impact of those negative childhood experiences.
And for many children, those caring adults are teachers. Teachers aren’t just educating the next generation; they are building relationships that could very well save a child who would otherwise end up like my former client – in a jail cell heading back to prison.
If common sense and logic prevailed, our communities would be doing everything we could to support teachers. We’d recognize that our future depends on them.
And yet, in West Virginia, our teachers – some of the lowest paid in the nation – have been on strike for more than a week. And the issue isn’t just about salaries – it’s about access to affordable health care and basic respect for the profession.
Many lawmakers are their biggest advocates, but others are actually belittling them.
Take, for example, Republican State Senator Craig Blair, who unfortunately and embarrassingly is from my county. During a radio interview, he actually used the fact that teachers are personally ensuring that low-income children still have access to free lunches during the strike as a reason they shouldn’t get raises.
Not only did he fail to acknowledge how incredible these teachers are for giving more than they are required, he flat-out failed the children they are helping. These are children in poverty. These are children who already have several strikes against them. These are children who need caring adults in their lives to counter all of the negative consequences of poverty. These are children that are caught up in a political battle that could be easily resolved. And these are the children who will soon be adults that either contribute to or become a burden on our communities. It all depends on what we adults choose to do.
I couldn’t save my client who is back behind bars, but I refuse to do nothing for West Virginia’s children and the teachers they need as much as they need sunshine and water to grow.
I’m using this blog and my words to strike back at the lawmakers who aren’t supporting them. And I know a lot of voters who will be striking back at the ballot box in November.
Whenever someone uses the word “deduct,” I always think of Mr. Hoff. He once asked his class to use the following four words in a complete sentence: defeat; defense; detail; and deduct.
None of his students were able to put together a logical sentence, and Mr. Hoff gave an impish grin and said “Defeat of deduct go over defense before detail.”
My classmates and I may have groaned, but I’ll never forget that sentence or those words.
Mr. Hoff was my fifth grade teacher, who I recently wrote about in my Charleston Daily Mail blog. I was shocked when many of Mr. Hoff’s former students from Oregon started posting and commenting on the blog.
But I shouldn’t have surprised.
Mr. Hoff was an amazing teacher, and being reminded of a great teacher who made a difference always makes me smile.
Day 8: Great teachers we still remember
With the current year fading fast and all of the potential of a new year on the horizon, I’d like to suggest a resolution for everyone: don’t write on someone else’s blank sheet of paper.
Whether or not you let someone write on YOUR paper is up to you, but please don’t write on someone else’s.
Personally, I’m resolving to avoid both. For such an outwardly head strong, opinionated person, you might think the first will be more difficult. But, for the unsure, worried and perpetually questioning me inside, the second will be just as challenging.
For years, I’ve let way too many people write on my paper. . . altering my story with their advice, opinions and standards. And the difference between someone who writes on your paper and someone who cheers as you write is long-lasting.
I learned this from two teachers and the blank sheets of paper they expected their students to fill.
I absolutely loved those blank sheets of paper. I loved the smell. I loved the look. And I loved the endless possibilities.
During my grade school years, the paper wasn’t white. It was an indescribable shade of grey and tan with space for a picture above and a combination of dotted and solid lines below. The purpose of the lines was to ensure appropriate hand-writing form.
I never worried about my handwriting (and was generally graded down accordingly). I was much more worried about content. I was fascinated by how I could string words together to say something that nobody else had ever said. I adored the feeling of putting pencil to paper and creating something. And I loved being able to express myself.
What I didn’t love was having parameters placed on me.
And those parameters were set forth quite firmly by my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gladwill. Unfortunately, I can’t really say anything nice about the woman. I could write pages about the horrors of that school year –about the times I was stuck in the corner so other students wouldn’t cheat off me; about how needing to go to the bathroom was a nightmare because it was prohibited during class time (Mrs. Gladwill’s theory was that if you didn’t have the sense to go during recess or lunch, then you should wait); about how Mrs. Gladwill liberally used harsh words and a ruler on knuckles; and, most of all, about how Mrs. Gladwill required conformity.
For a “spirited” child, there’s no wonder that I didn’t thrive in first grade. I simply survived. And was beholden to a series of lessons that led me to believe that sometimes it’s easier to just let others control what goes on your blank sheet of paper.
That became evident when Mrs. Gladwill gave all of her students the assignment of writing (and drawing) an answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
At first, I was very excited about the assignment. With Mrs. Gladwill as a teacher, I should have known better.
I wanted to write about becoming a trapeze artist. My father had built and hung a trapeze from a juniper tree in our backyard, and I was already practicing my act.
The problem was, I didn’t know how to spell trapeze.
When I asked Mrs. Gladwill, her only advice was to look it up in the “book of careers” she had provided us.
Needless to say, trapeze artist wasn’t listed.
So I had to ask Mrs. Gladwill again.
Instead of helping me spell out my dream, she advised me to write about something “normal”, like becoming a nurse.
I had no desire to be nurse, but I recognized the authority she had. So, I reluctantly looked up nurse in the career book and wrote about how I wanted to be one. I even remember drawing the picture with particularly harsh strokes: I was angry that Mrs. Gladwill had taken control of MY piece of paper. At the same time, I did not want to be in trouble. So my blank sheet of paper became a full sheet of paper that was a lie.
Turning in that paper marked the end of my dreams of becoming a trapeze artist. Mrs. Gladwill had made it clear: if it wasn’t in the book about careers, there was no sense in pursuing it.
By second grade, my dreams had evolved anyway. My new ambition was to become a writer.
Much to my surprise, my teacher, Mrs. Roth, never told me to look up writer in the “career book.” In fact, she didn’t even have a career book. She simply encouraged me to write stories whenever I had extra time. She even taped my stories on the outside of her classroom door where others could read them. And they did.
I remember swelling with pride when fourth graders stopped by our classroom to read my stories.
Since then, that dream of being a writer has never died. I can’t say I’ve fully achieved that goal, but I never gave it up. It’s hard to give up something when others, particular teachers, believe in you.
So as 2012 approaches, I’m raising a glass to toast the blank sheets of paper everyone will receive in the new year. And I’m toasting the opportunity we all have to continue writing our own unique story without being told what the plot should be. I’m also raising a glass to how we can all cheer each other on. And most of all, I’m raising a glass to the great teachers who lead the way. Not only do they encourage so many of us, but they also serve as examples for other teachers by acknowledging that sometimes the most meaningful lessons aren’t the ones that are taught but are the ones that are observed.
Here’s to that! Cheers!