An open letter to Georgia’s public schoolteachers
I can’t believe I am writing a back-toschool letter to you in July. That’s because I can’t believe you are starting a new school year in July. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right. Back in the good ol’ days – which look better and better as I get older and older – school always began right after Labor Day.
Even today, I dread the thought of Labor Day because it reminds me of the years of having to get up early, put on shoes and socks and freshly-ironed clothes and trek off to school. Once there, I waited for recess to come and then how long until lunch and, after that, wondering if the school day would ever end so I could get home and take off my shoes and socks. And, of course, there was homework. Always the homework, which greatly interfered with more important pursuits like playing ball or riding my bike.
In spite of this, Miss Dent and Miss Bolton and Jimmie Lou Hopgood, among others, managed to corral my wandering mind and taught me how to read and write, add and subtract, spell multisyllable words and to absorb a fair amount of history. That is what schoolteachers do. They did it back in my time and you do it today.
The difference in those days and now, in my opinion, is two-fold: Parents in my generation, for the most part, came out of rural settings where education was not a priority. Plowing, planting and harvesting were. They wanted their children to get the education they had been denied.
Second, the teaching profession was held in high regard by society. I have a friend who says that while the U.S. Constitution may say we are innocent until proven guilty, it didn’t work that way when we were in school. If the schoolteacher said you were guilty, chances were your parents accepted that verdict, much to your discomfort.
What has happened to parental support since those days, I’m not sure. Perhaps you know. I do know, and I think you would agree, that where parents are involved in a positive way in their child’s educational development, the results are positive. The problem is that many times that involvement is not about their child’s progress but about political and social issues. We’ve all seen the pictures of parents screaming and waving signs at each other over things like masks in the schoolroom during the COVID- 19 pandemic. How is that a positive influence on a child’s behavior?
Now you are caught in the crossfire between competing political philosophies on the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion. In my not-sohumble opinion, those discussions belong in the home, and you should not be held responsible for doing what the parents should be doing. However, no matter what you do regarding that subject – or what the politicians and special interest groups force on you – it won’t please a lot of people, and then we will get the predictable blather about “failing public schools,” which is not your fault. It is the fault of society.
If there is a failure here, it is mine for not doing a better job of getting it into people’s heads that public schools are a microcosm of society. My son – who is one of you, by the way – has told me many times you can’t shut the schoolhouse door on society’s problems. If a child is hungry, abused, has apathetic parents or no parents at all, is transient, can’t speak English or is a gang member, it doesn’t matter. You are supposed to educate them anyway.
Rather than address these problems directly, the solution for many politicians is to give tax breaks to parents (mostly white, well-to-do Republicans, although we don’t know that for sure since the information is not publicly available even though it involves our tax dollars) to send their kids to private schools that don’t have to abide by the same rules you do. If the child doesn’t play by their rules, they are sent back to – guess where? And you have no choice but to take them back.
But you are willing to take all the slings and arrows because we both know you will have a positive and lasting impact on some child’s life. I suspect everyone reading this with us today can name a schoolteacher who made a difference in their own life. Again, that is what teachers do. Yours is a noble profession. And I thank you for doing it.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.