Another Inspiring Teacher

So, one of my guilty pleasures is the Ellen DeGeneres Show. I think she is one of the funniest, most inspiring celebs on tv. I also think if we met in real life we’d be BFF’s…for real. During her show she shares inspiring stories of everyday heroes. So yeah, I laugh hysterically and cry during her one hour show. She’s also been sharing stories about schools and teachers as part of the inspiring heroes segment. Yesterday she had the principal and a teacher from Eastway Elementary in Durham, NC, where 93% of the students are on free or reduced lunch and many have been or are currently homeless. During the video, I heard stories of teachers who used their own paychecks to purchase supplies for their classrooms because they don’t have enough funding. The teacher on Ellen, Sarah Myrick, even has a second phone line she calls her ‘homework hotline’ so students can call her anytime for help with their school work. What amazing dedication! Ellen awarded her with a $500 check for each teacher and a $100,000 grant for the school. One more reason to love Ellen – and Target! You can watch the segment here.

Ellen with teacher, Sarah Myrick, and principal, Kendral Flowers. (photo from ellen.warnerbros.com)

While I was watching this all teary-eyed, I thought about how many teachers there are in this country who go above and beyond like Sarah Myrick. I know all of us remember a teacher like that. I had an European History teacher in high school, Mrs. Benjamin, who would meet with us everyday after school during the spring semester until 6 p.m. or later to help us prepare for our AP test that May. Our class ended the fall semester in December, so we weren’t technically her students anymore, but she that didn’t bother her. She even used her own money to buy all five of us pizza. After we left, she would stay the rest of the evening to plan for her other classes the next day. Because of her love of teaching and her dedication to us, we all passed the AP test and most of us went to college with credits because of that exam. I know I went away to school (and Europe the following summer) with a passion for European history.

Not every teacher is a Mrs. Myrick or a Mrs. Benjamin. Regardless, it’s disappointing to me that the people who influence our kids the most and are teaching them how to be good citizens and responsible leaders are so poorly compensated. For a country that claims to value education, we have a long way to go to prove it. We pay teachers $25k or so a year, but we pay professional athletes millions?! That boggles me. To me that says that we value entertainment more. We can pay athletes to throw a ball and run up and down a field but we can’t afford to pay our teachers who mold our children’s minds and views of the world?! Over the past year in Charlotte, eleven schools had to close their doors. This has caused overflow and an increase in teacher deficits. The teachers that were let go because their schools closed did not stay in the Charlotte school system and now they don’t have enough teachers. How valuable or successful could classroom instruction be without enough teachers?

Students with their certificates in Guatemala

A few years ago, I visited a church in a little town in Guatemala just across the river from Mexico. There, they don’t lack teachers – they lack students. The town was devastated by hurricane Stan in 2005 and three years later it still looked like the hurricane had just hit. It was a poor community that couldn’t rebuild itself. The church where I was working at the time in the mountains of North Carolina had a partnership with the Guatemalan church, where we sponsored children to attend school through a scholarship fund. The trip was an opportunity for some of us to meet the students we were sending to school through our scholarship program. While we were there, we did some sightseeing around the country. At one place we visited, the guide asked us why we were there and we told him. He paused from the tour for a few minutes to tell us how much of a difference we were making for the children in his country. He told us that we were not only changing the lives of those children, but their children and their children’s children, and so forth. Most of the kids cannot afford to attend school so they drop out at a young age. Many have children as teenagers or young adults and have to work making very little. Then, their children must drop out of school because they cannot afford to attend…and the cycle continues. BUT if that child finished school they would most likely go to college or trade school. They would make more money at their job and most who can afford to go that route wait to have children and thus are better able to provide for them…and that cycle continues. Now, what he said wasn’t rocket science, but it’s not the way most of us typically look at it. What he said reminded me that education truly changes lives.

Doing the chicken dance with Guatemalan students (Just for laughs!)

Imagine a world where every child can afford to go to school and graduate, regardless of their family’s income, their race or gender…and imagine if every school had legitimately adequate funding and plenty of teachers. What a difference that would make, not only in our children’s lives but for the world. And what a different world that would be.