Saturday, February 11, 2017

Proud Product of Public Education

I am a proud product of public education. When I was a kid, no other option occurred to us. Sure, we knew a couple of kids who went to Christian school and once in a while we encountered a family that homeschooled. But by and large, you walked to the bus stop, the yellow bus picked you up and you went where it took you. 


In elementary school, I attended three public schools, including the one where I now teach. At each one, I felt safe, loved and nurtured. Starting at five years old, I spent my days with people who were like me and some who weren’t so much like me on the outside or on paper. The beauty is I didn’t realize or care, because I was too young to know the difference. 

My fourth grade AG teacher is one of two public school teachers that I credit with my career path. I have vivid memories of the discussions we had in class, the projects we did together and “the look” she gave us when we knew we were going to have to sign the behavior book. She had standards and she expected us to live up to them. School wasn’t just a place we went; it was an experience we shared.

In middle school, I qualified for a gifted program and my dad spent three years carpooling from our town to a nearby city every day in his 1984 Escort. (I was born in 1983, so you do the math). On Friday nights, that same Escort dropped me off at “parties” across the county where we played Spin the Bottle and watched scary movies. But by day, we read quality literature together, studied cultures from around the world, and played silly, imaginative games at lunch.  (We were dorks.)

Lessons from these three years of public education are still the ones that I flash back to most often when my husband and I play Jeopardy each night. I couldn’t begin to tell you how much I learned those three years, but I do want you to know this: public school met me where I was and prepared me for a future I couldn’t yet imagine.

I attended high school back in my hometown where I worked my butt off to graduate pretty high up in a competitive class of a few hundred. I say that to say this: I attended private college but only because my public education prepared me to score well enough on the SAT to earn a full tuition scholarship. My college years were dedicated to learning how to give back to public schools as an educator, as I spent countless hours observing, volunteering and student teaching in public schools. 

I’m so thankful for my public school experience. It made me who I am today, along with my abiding church experience and the masterful “schooling” my parents no doubt did at home in addition to our daytime education. Kudos to my parents for trusting a public school system with their daughters when no doubt it had to have been challenging at times.

Here’s the thing people fail to realize about public schools: no one (teacher or student) is there because it’s the easiest thing to do. We’re all there, day in and day out, because it’s the right thing to do. Public schools promote community, diversity, tolerance, and most of all, an education that emulates real life. Despite its flaws, in my opinion, there is no greater establishment in our amazing country.

The other public school teacher with whom I credit my career path is my 10th grade English teacher. She had us write an essay about what we’d like to do with our lives. Before beginning, I told her I was undecided about a career choice because even though I wanted to teach, I worried about selling myself short. She leaned in close, looked me in the eye and told me she never wanted me to think such a thing again.  “There is no more honorable profession,” she said emphatically. 
                                                                                                                           
I believed those six words the moment they came out of her mouth, and I’ve never stopped believing- not this week, and not ever.  Politics and practices will change, but the principles behind public schools won’t change. There's an army of honorable public educators who love children and believe in doing what’s right that can promise you that.


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