By Julie Rine, Minerva Education Association
I’m not sure why I didn’t watch The West Wing when it originally aired, but thanks to the magic of Netflix, I can immerse myself in the politics of a kinder, gentler time.
In the Season 2 episode “Somebody’s Going to Emergency, Somebody’s Going to Jail,” President Jed Bartlet is trying to secure a location for his Presidential Library. Frustrated that only one year into his first term he is being asked to ponder life after the Presidency, he laments to his Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, “This is the last job I’m ever going to have. This is the last time I’m going to come to work with people. I swear to God, I feel like I was just starting to get good at it.”
For some reason, that line really struck me. What would it be like to not come to work with people? To not have that daily routine, that camaraderie that comes from sharing the same space, the same struggles, the same successes?
Recently, a friend who retired several years ago passed away from cancer. He was one of the first friends I made when I was a new teacher, one of the veterans who made me feel so welcome. When a colleague came to my classroom to tell me Rick had passed, we shared a hug and a few tears, finding it hard to believe that one of us was gone. The rest of the day, I sought out others to share my grief with, but to my surprise, only a very small handful of teachers remained who had worked with Rick. Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, I had shed my new-teacher status and become one of the old-timers.
Several former colleagues came to Rick’s funeral, and we decided to go back to the old bar we had frequented to enjoy a crappy pitcher of beer like we had done so many times with Rick. About half of us would see each other the next Monday morning; the other half are retired or working elsewhere. But for one brief moment, the old gang was back together, and it felt good, very good, in spite of the circumstances. These were not just former colleagues, they were old friends.
Every year in a school brings new colleagues, and one or two teachers at a time, the makeup of a staff changes. Yet though the staff may change, there are some teachers that seem to always be part of the picture: the Type A teacher, who can’t leave school on Friday unless every lesson plan for each class and each day of the next week are written out and posted to the website, the Type B teacher, who figures out what she’s teaching on her way to school, the teacher whose “stuff” seems to multiply and expand in his room, storage areas, and even the teacher work room. Every staff has the teacher who leaves funny signs in the lounge (“Copiers can sense fear. Stay calm and speak to the machine in low, soothing tones”), the teacher who has at least four coffee cups with old coffee in them on his desk at any given time, the go-to teacher who knows more about technology than the tech people. There’s always at least one teacher whose classroom looks professionally decorated with laminated posters and color schemes and changing bulletin boards, in contrast to the teacher whose bulletin boards don’t even get covered with paper some years. Kids fear the teacher who has a reputation for having high and unchanging expectations and pray to get the laid back teacher whose finds a way to pass every student. There’s the teacher who advises any student club who needs an advisor, the teacher who is early for everything, the teacher who is never on time, the teacher who struggles to deal with changes in plans or interruptions to the schedule and the teacher who willingly takes on new classes and accommodates everyone else. All of these types of teachers are a necessary part of the mosaic of a well-rounded education. It’s true, we sometimes get on each other’s nerves, but that’s why the summers are a blessing; after working so closely with our colleagues in a fast-paced and intense atmosphere for nine months, sometimes we need a break. But come fall, even the colleagues who drive me nuts because they operate differently than I do are a welcome sight in the hallways of the school as we trickle in to get our rooms ready for another year.
Every autumn, a unique and motley staff shows up ready to conquer whatever comes our way for the next 36 weeks. We survive experiments together such as a dance in the afternoon of the last day of testing (an unmitigated disaster). We work through schedule changes and testing requirements and curriculum revisions, bending and twisting and accommodating the shifting educational landscape to provide a better experience for our kids. We know acronyms no one else knows, a shorthand only we can speak that represents all the ins and out of the world of teaching: PARCC, OGT, AIR, PLC, PGP, IPDP, LPDC, IEP, STEM, and OTES. We come together because in spite of our differences, we have a shared vision of what we want our schools to be, what we want our communities to look like, and what we want our children to be armed with as they leave our buildings and move on to the next stage.
Jed Bartlet and his fictional staff in The West Wing aren’t that different from a school staff. Their time together had a defined beginning and end, other figures moved in and out of their lives for short periods of time, and they came to work in an intense and ever-changing environment, having plans but never knowing for certain what the day ahead would bring. People who work in atmospheres such as this become bonded in a way that no one else can understand. It truly is a blessing to have colleagues.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s recognize the perks of having people to come to work with, and show some appreciation to the colleagues who show up every day to fight the good fight with us, who work with us to better the lives of our communities’ kids, and who, one school year at a time, become part of our professional stories.
Join us as we celebrate the hard work and important contributions of teachers during National Teacher Appreciation Week, and on National Teacher Day, May 9th. This is a time to thank America’s teachers for their commitment to students and for their work to create great public schools for every student, as well as encourage talented and committed individuals to consider the rewarding and intellectually demanding profession of teaching.
You can show your appreciation by sharing one of the following on social media:
- A picture of yourself with your favorite teacher, past or present;
- A picture of your child with his or her teacher;
- A picture of yourself holding a piece of paper with a simple message saying Thank You to a teacher and why you’re thanking him or her.
Be sure to use the hashtag #ThankATeacher when sharing.
Or check out our Teacher Appreciation Week board on Pinterest for other ideas on how to personally thank teachers for making a positive impact on your life and the lives of children across the country.