Teachers Matter: Welcome to the Next Generation of Educators

“So enter that daily thou mayest grow in knowledge, wisdom, and love.” –Alumni Gateway, Ohio University, entrance view.

May 2017.  Upon high school graduation, like many, my daughter, Madelyn (Maddie), thought she had an idea regarding the direction of her adult path.  However, once immersed in the pursuit of this path, biochemistry/chemistry, despite excelling at it, she was miserable. Midway through her undergraduate studies, after much reflection, discussion, and contemplation, Maddie bravely decided to pivot.

Her decision to change course was not a simple one.  And while I do not want to speak for Maddie’s experience during this process, I do recall her stating that the one class that truly brought her joy during her first two years of undergraduate work was an art course.  Art was her minor, but in the decision to switch, art became her major, and biochemistry/chemistry became her minor.  

Like all change, there was some catching up to do and several adjustments, especially since she switched locations of study. Then COVID, and the ensuing pandemic, hit, impeding progress as the railways of education greatly slowed in an attempt to switch tracks.  This meant virtually navigating coursework meant to be completed in an art studio.

As the pandemic’s impact grew, the staggering blow of life-interrupted affected all, especially those between 18-25 years.  Daily living went upside down and sideways for this age group as the so-called normal way of interacting and connecting with friends, family, and mentors was often lost during times of isolation.  Even as restrictions gradually eased, those last two years of undergraduate study, while simultaneously working part-time, were not the typical college-age experiences for Maddie and her peers.

In the shadow of the COVID cloud, Maddie was also reflecting, examining, and embracing a greater understanding of herself to best determine what her next steps into adulthood would look like.  Again, I cannot speak to her internal experience, but from the outside, her contemplation process appeared deep, honest, and, at times, painful.  I wanted to help ease the discomfort of this transitional process, but as with any metamorphosis, only the person within the cocoon can undergo the change.

Beside a bright green cap, you will see Madelyn looking up at us with a glowing face of pride.

May 2023. John, my husband, and I waited as the candidates for Doctoral and Master’s degrees from Ohio University, our alma mater, made their way into the Convocation Center.  It was a long procession with Patton College of Education entering as the next-to-last school of candidates. Finally, we spied Maddie with a smile for miles, waving at us, face glowing with pride.  She had not only emerged victorious from the cocoon of young adult transition, but also, she had successfully earned a Master of Education degree during this transformation and appeared ready to take flight.  I hoped that like a sponge, she soaked up all the joy, hope, and satisfaction relegated to such a momentous occasion.

Celebratory milestone moments of life are few and far between.  These cherished junctures of life mark a moment in time when one can say, “I did it.  I put in the work.”  Or, as Maddie likes to say, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  And persist, she did.

And so, as John and I sat there, tears frequently slipping out of our eyes, I reflected over the ways in which this moment could potentially impact her life.  You see, our daughter is now a fourth generation educator, the ninth teacher of our collective families.  Education is not an easy career, and often the rewards are not, per se, tangible–at least if you measure monetarily.  Instead, the rewards are more intrinsic.  It is a calling to go forth and make a difference in the lives of others.

It struck John and me that these hundreds of candidates, no matter their field, present in full regalia, were there, in part due to their past teachers.  In fact, though teachers are often at the bottom of the pay scale, there isn’t a single adult, or child over the age of five, whose lives have not been impacted by a teacher.  As with any field, there are always going to be some bad apples, but the dynamic teacher, the teacher who cares, who is passionate about his or her students and subject matter can truly make a difference, and, in some cases, be transformational.  Call me biased, but there is not a doubt in my mind that Maddie will be the latter.

I have often shared a story about my Papaw.  He once pulled me aside and said, “Stethie,” (that is how he said Stephie), “Your ol’ Papaw only got a 5th grade education.”  

Papaw then spoke proudly of his sister who had gone to college, earned her degree, and went on to become a teacher. 

“Don’t be dumb like your ol’ Papaw.  Get your education.  Go as far as you can with it.” 

He went on to encourage me to be a teacher, like his sister, and later, his daughter, my mother.  

“There’s no greater job.”

Papaw and me when I was around two years old in his backyard in front of his garden.

Little did he know that I would not only go on to become a teacher, but also marry an educator who was from a family of teachers.  Therefore, I can only imagine the smile on Papaw’s heavenly face, knowing his belief about education still inspires and motivates today.

This story will be published in May on the final day of National Teacher Appreciation Week. Numerous colleges and universities will be graduating more educators around this same time period, but the fact remains that the long-standing shortage of teachers that has been increasing since before the pandemic, will continue to grow. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, this is not a result of the number of qualified candidates as much as it is the working conditions and lack of compensation.  

I am hopeful this will change for my daughter and her educational peers, but I am often discouraged by current political culture and societal trends, especially with regards to the importance of education.  Nonetheless, Madelyn comes from a long line of people who knew, know, and believe(d) in the merit of quality education and the impact of a positive teacher. My prayer is that she, along with the newest class of teachers entering the field, will proudly stand on the shoulders of those who came before them, and bless this world and its children, with their many gifts in even greater and more innovative ways than their predecessors could have ever dreamed.

“So depart that daily thou mayest better serve thy fellow man, thy country, and thy God.”–Alumni Gateway, Ohio University, exit view.

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