I was fortunate enough to teach during a time when teachers were, if not revered, at least respected.
A time when teachers closed that classroom door and were the ultimate authority. What happened in that room was almost totally under their control as long as the requirements of the curriculum were covered. I was a good teacher, but I did not stay within the lines. If someone taught the way I taught today they would probably get sued or fired or both.
My students were expected to contribute heavily to what was learned and how it was learned. I was more the guide, the person who supplied what they needed to get the job done than the authority figure in front of the class barking orders and collecting papers.
I insisted they argue with me about issues and ideas and that they have evidence to back up their assertions. I told them the first day of classes that they should never believe anyone without verifying what they were told and that I was included in that caveat. I told them I would lie to them sometimes and they were responsible for calling me out.
We had discussions, we had debates, my classes were never quiet. We laughed a lot. We went off script and studied things not technically in the curriculum. My ninth graders at Warner who took civics had to take care of a hollowed out egg “baby” for six weeks. This was to teach them responsibility for something fragile. I tied that in with the requirement of being a responsible citizen. The egg had to be whole for them to get full credit for the activity. It could never be left alone. If they had gym or some other activity that made it impossible to keep their baby with them they had to have a signature from a “babysitter.” Parents were asked to sign weekly sheets that the baby had been treated properly while at home.
I took my students on field trips to town to see the city building, county building, and court house and talk to the staffs there about what they did. I had them write and perform plays. Along with some colleagues we started a dance for the freshmen, like a mini-prom before they left Warner. We called it the Farewell Freshmen Dance. Three of us female teachers ran the chains for the freshman football Falcons.
I didn’t not have any push back from any administrator, any parent, or any colleague for any of this. Nobody suggested I was abusing their child, or mistreating him or her. Nobody said I was a bad teacher because their child got a low grade. My parents supported me 100 percent at every turn. Not because I was a perfect teacher, but because they knew I tried hard, loved their kids and wanted to do my best for them. Many current teachers do the same.
Times have changed. The power of teachers to control what happens in their classrooms has been drastically cut by people who are not educators. The general population does not appreciate what teachers are or what they do. There is widespread criticism for things that the teachers do not want to do but are required to do.
As we approach the (possible) opening of school I ask that you appreciate our teachers, respect them, and insist your children do too. They are the heroes and heroines of our society. If only most of you knew the mixture of smiles and tears all teachers experience on a daily basis working with your children you would thank them each time you see them.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and columnist.