American educator Robert Maynard Hutchins said it best: “The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.”
As we set out to accomplish this objective, let us take time to not only honor teachers May 2 through May 8, 2010 — Teacher Appreciation Week — but to speak out boldly in opposition to the attempts to make teachers merely technicians of proficiency, and admonish those who unrealistically say that if their students do not perform to the level of standards developed by self-appointed experts — so-called “academic growth” — the teachers will lose their jobs because they are not effective teachers!
Up front, let me disclose that I have never been a fan of standardized tests. For one thing, as Dr. Michael Brunn, an education professor, has said, “when schools’ budgets, principals’ jobs, and communities’ reputations are on the line with such high stakes testing, many teachers, exemplary and conscientious or otherwise, set aside their best practice in order to meet the pressures and the demands for increasing, raising, and scoring high marks within classrooms, and throughout the schools.”
We can all recall effective teachers whose best practices inspired us. Ms. Verbeck, my third-grade teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary; Mr. Meserve, Heaton Junior High, who taught me civics and, to the chagrin of some, perked my interest in politics; Brother Mark, who taught me that I could sing in the glee club; Father Lawrence who facilitated my understanding of Latin as I translated Cicero’s travels; and the many professors in college and law school who taught me how to think critically. One in particular, my constitutional law professor, admitted that he loved teaching so much that he would do it for nothing, but warned us not to tell the administration.
My classrooms were laboratories where I experienced a creative environment that allowed me to think big and act boldly. Teachers imparted to me the importance of the three ‘R’s — reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic — but also that I could become a poet, artist, musician or anything else that caught my fancy.
As a parent with 15 children, and as a former legislator, I have long been involved in issues involving education. Nearly half of my children have been or are young teachers, or are considering teaching. Many people have inquisitively asked them: “You are only a teacher?”
To those who believe that a teacher is “Only a Teacher,” Ivan Welton Fitzwater — teacher, counselor, principal and superintendent — spoke for all teachers when he said:
“I AM a teacher! What I do and say are being absorbed by young minds who will echo these images across the ages … the so-called ordinary people who will make the decisions in a democracy … I must be vigilant every day lest I lose one fragile opportunity to improve tomorrow.”
Pueblo District Attorney
Former Colorado Senate Majority Leader