Can a Teacher Get a Little More Respect? (And Maybe Some Health Insurance?)


My first grade granddaughter is an excellent reader, and lately she’s decided to spice up the nightly reading by playing the teacher.  She reads to a class of students—I’m the only visible one—and I keep thinking as I lap up the expression she put into her performance that I wish her teacher could see herself right now.  This is the fruit of Miss Dikeman’s tireless labor—the child who has her inflection, gestures, even the way she holds the book down pat, who reflects her enthusiasm for education and wants to be like her.  Here’s the line I loved from last night’s lesson.  “Now, children, we’ll have school Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  Saturday and Sunday you’ll be having free time with your parents.”

Who didn’t grow up at some point wanting to be a teacher?  Several of us here in the convertible are or have been teachers.  Most people have teachers somewhere in the family, so most people understand that it’s not a profession you go into because you want to get rich.  While a good teacher is, in my opinion, worth her weight in gold, she will neither be wearing it or squirreling it away.  Her workday will not begin when she arrives at the workplace and end when she leaves.  Her success will be hard to measure, and it probably won’t be recognized in any splashy way.  Growing takes time, and that’s what a teacher does.  She contributes to the growth of the minds of hundreds of individuals. 

Our national government has passed laws called The National Defense Act over and over again in the course of more than 100 years, and until 1958 those bills were about military defense.  In 1958 the Eisenhower administration backed The National Education Defense Act, which provided, among other financial commitments to education, help for students to go to college and become teachers.  For the first time education was recognized as essential to the vitality of our democracy, our economy, and our national defense.  And public education improved dramatically.  Together with the Civil Rights Act and gains in equality for women, this change in our national attitude improved our social fabric by creating opportunity.  And teachers led the way.

I’m not going to get into the collective bargaining issue—you can probably guess where I stand—but I’m sickened by some of the comments I’ve heard lately about teachers being overpaid and “only working part time” and getting “Cadillac benefits,” and generally being a rather sorry lot. 

So I thought we could turn this discussion around.  Teachers make a big difference in most people’s lives.  Let’s celebrate that.  I’d love to hear about your favorite teachers. 

I’ll start.  Mrs. Sheehan, my 6th grade teacher, was one of my favorites.  Everything was a story.  Science, math, the diagram of a sentence, the spelling of a word.  And history was a grand story.  Every unit came with a project, and every kid in class had something to contribute.  We had skits, learned to square dance, wrote, read, sang, and still covered all the basics.

The best teacher I had in 12 years was probably Mr. Foley, who had been teaching U.S. History for maybe 25 years or more.  Everyone was scared of him, but, man, we learned much more than a chronology of events.  There was no text book.  We used a program designed by Amherst College consisting of source documents.  Each unit culminated in a topic for debate.  Mr. Foley sat in the back of the room instead of the front, and he challenged us to think critically.  He wasn’t warm and fuzzy like Mrs. Sheehan, but his class went a long way in preparing me for college.

Your turn.  Who were some of your favorite teachers, and what wonderful memories do you have of them?


About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
This entry was posted in school, school memories, teachers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Can a Teacher Get a Little More Respect? (And Maybe Some Health Insurance?)

  1. MJ says:

    My favorite teacher was Doris Polak, in high school. An English teacher, of course, and she encouraged my writing. Last year I found her on Facebook and was able to tell her I’m now a writer AND a teacher.

    Then there was Miss Moen, who actually just retired a couple of years ago. She was my 5th grade teacher. We had chores in her room, and she kept animals, and I remember one week the kids got to be teachers for a day. They told us we all had a skill no one else had, and the other kids could sign up for our lesson. It was so neat.

    The sad thing is, the things I remember about school were the creative bits like that, not the endless testing prep the kids today have to endure.

    • Sad indeed, MJ. I’m absolutely death on teaching to the test. It’s one of the big drawbacks in public education these days. You can use tests to monitor and evaluate student progress, but testing is misused these days. In the U.S. history class I talked about, there were no tests. No multiple guess. We were evaluated on oral and written presentations. At the end of the course we took a standardized test to show that we knew the traditional facts, and we did fine. And, oh yeah, we did some memorization on the side–the preamble to the Constitution, the basic articles and amendments, the Gettysburg address, stuff like that. Good exercises. Just because your be-all and end-all isn’t a test doesn’t mean there aren’t standards.

  2. Alison Henderson says:

    Hi Kathy,
    I couldn’t agree more. Teachers are a special breed, and we need to support them. My daughter is a third year grad student and had her first opportunity to teach last fall – Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphs. She loved the experience and is now looking forward to a possible career as a professor.

    I had two English teachers in high school who can take credit for the fact that I’m published today – Mrs. Stecker and Mr. Rees. I had no interest in writing at that point, but they instilled all the mechanics and taught me how to analyze and appreciate the work of much greater writers than I’ll ever be. I’ll be forever grateful.

    • Welcome, Alison! It’s so good to see you here, my friend.

      I remember hearing a claim once that students most often report English as their least favorite subject but most often cite an English teacher as their favorite. Lots of theories about why that is. I had some wonderful English teachers, and each one contributed to my development as a writer. I had the sticklers for grammar, the literature buffs, those who encouraged creativity, those who focused on logic, research and order–a whole gamut that taken together made for a solid background in my “best subject.” Forever grateful says it all.

  3. michele says:

    I only really appreciated the best teacher I ever had after I’d graduated. Mr. Krystosic taught social studies and crime & justice and history. Everyone complained that he was a creep and crabby, and a dictator. He’d pace the rows of desks, arms behind his back, looking over us. He’d expound on personal stories that we felt sure weren’t true so fabulous they were. He’d always have that bow tie and suspenders (that he’d snap). He’d lecture endlessly and then turn to us and ask ‘Did you get the gist?’ That was his favorite saying. After you took one class from him, most never took another. But I kept going back for more (all 3 years I could take his classes), even though I complained about his crabbiness along with the rest.
    Of course now I look back and realize he was a character who was capable of holding my interest so much that I even took the Crime & Justice class (though I had no interest in it). I just wanted more of that fascinating teacher. 🙂

    • As teachers we teach ourselves–what we know, who we are, and who we’re trying to become (because teachers can’t stagnate–they have to keep learning). Mr. Krystosic sounds a little like my Mr. Foley. He wasn’t big on telling personal stories, but when he did, they were memorable. I remember one about the time he went to a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway and saw Babe Ruth. I remember thinking, “Boy, is he old. No wonder he teaches history.” But his point was that nostalgia clouds our understanding of the past, and that we have to get past that before we can understand the historic significance of events. See? I remember. The lesson went with a personal story. And that’s why good storytellers are teachers and vice versa.

  4. Helen Brenna says:

    I went to a Catholic grade school run by nuns. Need I say more? lol High school was less strict, but I still wasn’t crazy about all but one or two of my teachers. College was the turning point for me with education. I had so many classes that I loved. Can’t remember any of the professors names, but boy do I remember coming alive wanting to learn. There’s no doubt that teachers shape the future.

    In a way, I’m kind of glad this firestorm is happening in Wisconsin. Hopefully, we’ll find out where the majority in this country stands. I want to know.

    • I’m with you, Helen. I want to know whether people care whether public education survives and thrives. I think we took it for granted for a long time, and it’s high time we made it a priority again. I went to a private college, and it was the seminal educational experience of my life. But without that wonderful public school preparation, I would not have been able to get into that college, nor would I have received the funding that made it possible for me to attend. We have to support teachers and beef up the teaching profession. We have to recognize that teachers are professionals as well as public servants. They understand the servants part. The public must respect the professional part.

  5. kylie brant says:

    Mr. Vega, my high school Spanish teacher was a favorite. He had a background in counseling so had a wonderful rapport with kids. He was really everyone’s favorite, which says a lot about the man as a person. He died in his 60s…I still grieve.

    It’s a sad state of affairs when I look at the changes barreling down on education in the next 3-5 years and give silent thanks that I will qualify for early retirement by then 😦

  6. christieridgway says:

    Mrs. Robertson in 2nd grade and Mr. Guinn freshman year of high school English. I knew I was a good student but he confirmed I was a good =English= student and was over the moon about my first piece of writing for his class. Clinched my life goal (he was also the journalism advisor and I was on the school paper.

    Surfer Guy is a teacher. He works hard and worries hard about his students. As he’s the AP Calculus teacher at his school he has many, many success stories and former students look him up and praise him all the time. Makes me so proud. But he also teaches the most basic math class at his school and gives them his all too. He’s currently very thrilled with his Algebra 1 students who are making great strides despite some trying familial circumstances.

    • Christie, math has always been my weakness, and I can’t believe the kind of homework I’m trying to help my 3d grade granddaughter with. What’s an algorithm?

      Oh, those teachers who give you props for your writing. Aren’t they the best. I remember one in third grade, another in eighth, and several in high school. Yep, they made me a believer.

  7. My husband took early retirement. He was Minneapolis Middle School Teacher of the Year in ’98. He was very proud of the work he did, but he taught in a very challenging situation, and it was a stressful job. He needed the summer off, not only for R & R but to get his Master’s nearly twice over, which is pretty much a requirement if you’re going to stay in the profession. The idea that teachers are paid better than people in the “private sector” with equivalent education and experience is simply not true. Far from true.

    • Betina says:

      I’m with you, Kathy! While it’s true that some teachers just “float,” a vast majority are there because they want to help kids and really try to reach every kid they can with a love of learning and a sense of achievement.

      It is public education that has made America great. And those who would wreck that system in order to “privatize” education and hand out “chits” to totally unregulated charter schools are nuts!!! They’re just asking to splinter our populace and create even deeper “class” divides in the country. Which, when you listen to them talk, would probably just delight their dark little hearts!

  8. Jane says:

    My favorite teach is Ms. Rubio from first grade. She definitely made learning fun and helped bring me out of my shell.

  9. Betina says:

    Great topic, Kathy! My mom was the first in our large family to go to college and she did it so she could become a teacher. Every girl in our family– there were 18 of us!– wanted to follow her example and 14 of us became teachers. At one time, my mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, husband, and I all were teachers. (Ok, the husb taught college, but still. . .) And my blood boils at what I hear from some of the big-mouths on tv these days. I LOVED Jon Stewart sticking up for teachers(in his own sardonic way, of course). His mom was a teacher, too.

    I was greatly affected by a number of my teachers, but none moreso than Mrs. Selby, my 8th grade American History teacher. She had a masters from Penn State and had stories that made me want to cut the rest of my classes just to listen to her all day. She was an older lady, ram-rod tall and straight, with a quirky sense of humor. Not warm and fuzzy at all, but she and a fellow teacher started an American History Club that you had to be invited to join. We raised money all year on a hundred different projects and took a 13 day trip up the eastern seaboard when school ended. 13 DAYS with 40 new teenagers all 13 and 14! They must have been crazy! If so, it was a long-term illness; they did it for nearly 15 years!

    That was the trip that I stood in Independence Hall in Philadelphia and felt a small earthquake of insight that made me feel as if I were seeing and hearing what went on there. Almost spooky. I should have known from that moment that I was destined to do something with History– like write Historical Romances!

    Thank you, Mrs. Selby. From the bottom of my heart.

    • Oh, Betina, you just reminded me of my 8th grade social studies trip to NYC. We took the train–I’m thinking it was open to anyone who wanted to go because there were lots of chaperons and at least a car full of kids–for a day trip to visit the UN and the Museum of Natural History. I didn’t fully appreciate what kind of responsibility the teachers took on until it was my turn. And I took many many turns. Oh, those senior class trips! Do people really understand the full gamut of a teacher’s work?

      What a lovely professional legacy for your family. Your mother was such a fine woman, Betina. And she raised two damn fine daughters.

    • And did you see Samantha Bee’s visit to two teachers in their “lavish” digs on The Daily Show? You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  10. I had a message from someone who mistook my title for this post to mean that I was claiming that teachers don’t get health insurance. They do, but I don’t know of any who don’t pay into their plan, and their contributions are generally sizable, especially if they have families. They also pay into their pension plans, which is generally matched by employer, and if they leave the profession before retirement, they can only withdraw their own contribution. Some states have jeopardized pension programs by borrowing from them.

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