Invariably, in many social situations, I am asked that same ubiquitous question many people face: “So, what do you do for a living?” And when I answer that I am a teacher the reactions are varied. “Wow, that must be exciting!” “Do you guys still use red ink?” “How do you handle those kids?” “I wouldn’t have the patience.” Some people have even said, “I’m sorry.”
While there may be some lightheartedness involved, conversations about education usually ensue because everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources. But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken and lack confidence in our young people and their role as future leaders. It is with these people that I talk about my school West Forsyth its community. In fact, I can speak glowingly of all our schools here in my school system. I can go even further than that. I can brag about all of our public schools here in North Carolina.
I am not here to compare schools, but having spent the last twelve-plus years at West Forsyth gives me insight into at least one of them. The fact that West Forsyth is recognized as a high-performing school and that our students pursue worthwhile post-secondary endeavors speaks incredibly well, but our students are more than achievers in academics. It’s because they succeed in being good people that helps set this school apart. I am more than confident that many people who read this post can substitute another school’s name in West’s place and still speak the truth.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, once said, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Most all of the young people I see every day understand the meaning of those words and the character they show inside and outside the classroom is a reason that we should celebrate the work our schools do.
In a country where we identify schools through acronyms like NCLB, EOCT’s, EOG’s, SAT’s, ACT’s, AP’s, ABC’s, and AYP’s, it’s reassuring to know that our young people also define themselves with more standards than those of an academic transcript. Don’t get me wrong; the academics are important, but if we want to educate the complete student, then we must honor character, and our students are very honorable because they distinguish themselves by their character and the impression they leave on others. If that is a criterion for having faith in this next generation, then the students I matriculate with every day at West have instilled confidence within me. The students I come across in other schools instill that same confidence within me.
When you as a teacher begin to see the third and fourth sibling from the same family in your classes, or have been sent wedding invitations from former students, or have embraced a family member at a funeral for a previous pupil, then you have been at the same school for a long time, or better yet, become a member of a community that loves and nurtures its own.
When you receive notes and visits from students who have long past graduated, then you know you have made an impression, hopefully a positive one. And when you are met by a parent whom you do not even recognize but wanted to thank you for what you taught his/her child, then you know that you are in the right profession. And when the first child of a former student graces my doorway for class, then I will be more than glad to talk of his/her parent’s adventures in school, possibly with some embellishment.
My own daughter now attends West as a junior. There was no need to show her around campus or introduce her to the administration or the teachers when she began here last year; she already was familiar with West. That’s because she already was invested in one of the cornerstones of our community: the public high school.