During the presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower, James Michener, author of Hawaii, The Source, and other mega-sellers, was invited to a celebrity dinner at the White House. In a letter Michener declined to attend: “Dear Mr. President: I received your invitation three days after I had agreed to speak a few words at a dinner honoring the wonderful high school teacher who taught me how to write. I know you will not miss me at your dinner, but she might at hers.”
A week later, Michener received a handwritten reply from the understanding Ike: “In his lifetime a man lives under fifteen or sixteen presidents, but a really fine teacher comes into his life but rarely. Go and speak at your teacher’s dinner.”
Teaching is the highest calling. Parents entrust their most precious treasures to teachers. Almost everybody who is anybody was taught to be somebody by a teacher. Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions.
America is a nation of teachers: The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in their 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook, counts 6,085,000 teachers in the United States. This includes 3,954,000 pre-kindergarten-to-twelfth-grade teachers, 459,000 special education teachers, and 1,672,000 postsecondary professors and instructors.
Teachers are not only a populous group across our land. They change the lives of our young people. In What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell states, “Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a bad school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher.” Study after study shows that great teaching is the most important booster of student achievement — of larger consequence than class size, money spent, the school building, and quality of textbooks.
One of my favorite newspaper corrections reads: “It was incorrectly reported last Friday that today is T-shirt Appreciation Week. It is actually Teacher Appreciation Week.” In 1985, the National Education Association and National Parent Teacher Association set aside the first full week in May as a time to honor teachers and show respect for their profession. In fact, every day should be devoted to Teacher Appreciation and made a time to recognize members of the most unheralded, labor-intensive, multi-tasking, exhausting, income-challenged, and rewarding of all professions.
Richard Lederer, M.A.T. English and Education, Ph.D. Linguistics, is the author of more than 35 books on language, history, and humor. This excerpt from the upcoming Richard Lederer collection, A Tribute to Teachers, to be published July 2011. Explore his web site www.verbivore.com. Write him at [email protected].