Teachers' Extra Credit

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Another school year is nearly over, my 23rd year as a public school teacher. At the end of each of those 23 years, I reflect on the year's lessons, not only the ones I've taught, but the ones life has taught me.

This year, here's what I learned:

Teachers are an amazing workforce.

Lately, public education has been in the news, dismissed as a failing institution. With charter schools expanding and our Secretary of Education endorsing for-profit private school vouchers, I thought about teachers I worked with over two decades.

There was third grade teacher, Miss Lee. A student that year had a terrible thing happen - her mother was killed. Miss Lee attended the funeral, holding her sobbing young student's hand through the service. Miss Lee tutored the girl after school and never lost touch with her over the years. When that girl got married, it was Miss Lee who walked her down the aisle.


Mr. Ryan, with five kids of his own, somehow found the energy to start a chess club at his tough inner-city school, buying chess sets, making sandwiches, inviting students to play chess in his classroom every lunch period. Streetwise kids became 'A' students using the power of considering problems from every angle learned in those lunchtime chess marathons.

Ms. Jean, who took first graders on a wilderness camping trip every year, for most their first time out of the city. Mr. Dean, whose passion for art had fourth graders creating wildly inventive paintings. Ms. Lilly starting every day with second graders singing joyously along to her beautiful guitar playing. Mr. Dylan, whose fifth graders sat beneath trees reading Shakespeare.

I've had the honor of working with the most brilliant, hard-working, creative people imaginable. My experience isn't unique - whenever I tell people I'm a teacher, everyone has a story about a teacher who inspired them, maybe even changed their life forever.

So today - May 9, National Teacher's Day - I'd like to salute my colleagues who show up day after day, making more of an impact than an income. The future is in our classrooms. We are more than just a workforce - we are responsible for our nation's greatest natural resource, the next generation.

So, no matter what you might read about education -- if you can read it, thank a teacher.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.