Oct 12 2006

Reinvigorating the Teacher Story

Mark Victor Hansen, co-founder of the best selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series, talks about re-energizing the nation’s teachers.

Each profession has stories that motivate, energize and enlighten. Passed from one generation to another, these anecdotes help guide our youth in their journey to become the leaders of tomorrow, as doctors, lawyers, firefighters and teachers.

These are stories that lift our spirits and make us dream of all that we can be.

Once upon a time, the teacher story lived at the forefront of the American psyche. It reminded us that teachers held the sacred responsibility of shaping the minds of our future leaders. That story still holds true. But today, flaws in the education system and the lack of adequate resources have left the teacher story a mere shadow of what it once was. For the sake of tomorrow’s leaders—and ourselves—we must reinvigorate the story.

Chewed up and spit out by administrators, students and the education system in general, teachers are not given the respect, admiration and support that they’ve earned. A big part of the problem lies within the education system itself, and as a result, teacher morale suffers. Yet wherever a problem lurks, the opportunity to fix that problem arises.

So, here’s the good news. Instead of letting themselves be downcast, teachers can lift their gaze to the stars and enjoy being part of the highest, most noble and most important profession on the planet.

I wasn’t good at chemistry until I studied it with Dr. Linus Polling. I ended up with an A plus because she taught me the joy of chemistry. It’s important for all of us to remember our own Dr. Pollings and recognize them as our personal heroes and heroines.

Teachers must also remember the importance of their role in society and hold their heads high. Their paychecks may be modest, but the payback they get from making a positive impact on students’ lives is beyond measure. The word education derives from the Latin educare, which means to draw out. If teachers can draw out the greatness from the potential that resides in each and every student, our children will be on their way to a bright future. That’s exactly what Dr. Polling did for me.

I once spoke to a class of at-risk students: the unhappy ones who sit in the back of the class and chew gum. I told them, “when the game is over, C students hire A students. I can show you how to make a lot of money in a short amount of time and have fun doing it.”

Suddenly, they all sat up straight and started learning. Some students broke their pencils in half, so all could take notes. It was wonderful. It also reinforced for me the truth that there are no junk kids—only people who haven’t been drawn into the energy orbit and tutelage of a great and inspiring teacher.

Chris Jurenka, a Ph.D. and the principal of my children’s elementary school, is a dear family friend. She loves my kids so much that she often volunteers to babysit. Chris discovered that a computer could help kids write stories even before they had learned how to read. She got a $150,000 grant to help students use the technology to learn.

We need to continue telling our stories of the inspiring teachers in our lives. We also need to provide our teachers with the resources and support they need, including supplying them with the best in educational technology. How can our teachers impart a knowledge of technology to students without learning and using the technology themselves?

Education is the key to the kingdom, the key to the future and the key to the good life. Our teachers are the key-makers, the heart and soul of education. As today’s leaders, we must recognize and value the contributions of our teachers and accord them the respect they deserve.

Let’s start reinvigorating the teacher story with our praise and respect, and let’s start sharing our own stories of the teachers that made us ask better questions and experience the joy of learning about the world.

Mark Victor Hansen, author and publisher, is co-founder of the best selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series, which includes Chicken Soup for The Teacher’s Soul: Stories to Open the Hearts and Rekindle the Spirit of Educators. For more information on Hansen, go to www.markvictorhansen.com.