Commentary: Teachers shape the future

“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

-Henry Adams

It is a memory common to most people – one or more special teachers who “made the light come on” and awakened in them the curiosity that brings learning to life. While most of us are grateful to and for that teacher, few of us ever consider that the teacher in question also had a teacher who made the light come on for them, and so on. Adams, a celebrated historian and son of a family that gave us two presidents, captures the influence of teachers across generations, dating back to the furthest reaches of our past, and extending indefinitely into our future.

The National PTA has designated the week of May 2-6 as National Teacher Appreciation Week. We, the Board of Directors of Shenandoah County Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools (PASS), embrace this idea, but not because we believe that teachers should be appreciated one week out of the year. Rather, we believe there should be one week out of the year dedicated to reminding us how important teachers are to our children, our communities and our future, so that we might appreciate them year-round.

PASS was created to inform, organize and mobilize parents and other education supporters to advocate for our children’s education, and to give them a voice before local government and the media; at least, that is what we do the other 51 weeks of the year. This week, we would like to give them a voice before the teachers who are so important to our children’s future, and say a resounding “thank you.”

We know how hard you work for our children and how much you care. More precisely, we know that we don’t know – perhaps only you and God know – but we know that is quite a lot, because we see evidence of it every day. We know most of you could earn more money in some other field if you chose to, and most of you could earn more money teaching in another county as well. We are extraordinarily grateful for the dedication to our children that keeps you in your chosen profession in our little corner of the world.

We know that, at times, it can seem like our community is not committed to education. There are certain people who foster a climate of negativity toward our schools, and they can be quite vocal. Please know that there is a large silent majority that believes education should be a priority in Shenandoah County. We have taken it as our mission to make that majority larger and far less silent.

We are certain that each of you has difficult days when you question your decision to teach in Shenandoah County – when you are preparing for yet another redundant standardized test; when your heart is breaking for a kid who looks to the schools for the support and structure he should receive at home, or when you learn about another beneficial program we can’t afford.

On those difficult days, we hope what keeps you going is the belief that one of those little faces in front of you, with the right instruction, might become the business leader whose acumen creates thousands of jobs; the medical researcher whose work leads to a cure for cancer; the political leader who helps us rise above our divisions by appealing to our better angels…all of those but also, and just as importantly, the solid citizen, who works his or her whole life at a blue-collar job in Shenandoah County; who is grateful for their education, and is a better parent, citizen and member of the community for having received it – the kind of person who helps build strong communities.

Consider also that one of them, perhaps inspired by your example, might take on the mantle of the noble endeavor in which you find yourselves and play their own role in shaping the future by becoming a teacher. On those days when you’re ready to chuck it all and find another career, we hope the prospect of helping create those possible futures keeps you soldiering on. As Mr. Adams tells us, your work will live on indefinitely.

On behalf of more than 1,000 parents and other education supporters in PASS, we hope our county’s teachers will accept our gratitude and appreciation for all you do for our kids and our future, and our assurance that you will always find us in your corner.

Dan Walsh is president of Shenandoah County Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools, Abby Walters is vice president, Seth Coffman is treasurer and Jennifer Biller is secretary.