Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Teachers and Pushcarts

It's the first day of school today, and for the first time in 27 years (since I was 4) I'm missing it. It's a strange feeling for me, but I know that I'm about to embark on a new experience from which I'll learn more than I could ever imagine, and will also become the most important teaching job that I'll ever have. 

I want to give my appreciation to all my friends and colleagues returning to the classroom today. My thoughts are with you. I hope you all have a smooth start to the school year.

It's hard to be a teacher in America right now. At some point since I started teaching 9 years ago, teaching went from being a profession you proudly announced to one you mumbled about. I'm not sure when or why we've become the villains in society, but it kind of reminds me of the classic children's satire, The Pushcart War, by Jean Merrill. In the book, trucking companies are taking over New York City. There are so many trucks, and they are so big, that traffic is impossible, and rather than take responsibility, the trucking companies decide to find someone else to take the blame. They choose to target the pushcarts, those innocent sellers of produce, pretzels and clothing. They start a secret campaign, and people start to say, "I hear it is the pushcarts who are to blame," even though the 530 pushcarts in the city barely take up the space of a city block, while one big truck left idling in the street can stop traffic for miles. And yet, because every problem needs a scapegoat, the people of Manhattan blame the pushcarts, until the pushcart owners themselves decide to fight back. 

It's a great book, one of my favorites of all time. I still read it as an adult. 

I find it an appropriate analogy because as someone deeply entrenched in the educational system (as a student, a daughter of two teachers, a college student in a education program, and then a teacher myself, the spouse of a teacher, and the close relative of many other teachers and administrators) I see so much passion and hard work from educators. No one lasts in this profession unless they really love and believe in the power of learning. Contrary to belief, this is not a profession in which a person could "phone it in." There are students sitting in front of you every day, waiting for knowledge and understanding, and often for guidance and compassion. It's literally impossible to not respond to their bare need. Like the pushcart owners in the story, we're being blamed for America's larger problems, while our needs, and the true needs of our students, are going ignored or largely misunderstood. 

I'm not making any political argument here, or saying that the educational system in America is excellent. It's not. Any teacher will tell you that. We all know the system is broken- we fight against it every day. But it is not the teachers who are to blame. We are all doing the best we can with the resources we have, and we're doing it with passion. 

So teachers, as you go back to work today, remember to be proud of who you are and what you do. America may not value us right now, but America's students need us. 

In the meantime, take a lesson from the pushcarts, and don't let the trucks push you around.


  1. Leanne, this is wonderfully written, and you are wonderful for writing it with such conviction, passion, and truth. This (and you) are an inspiration to all teachers, and to those who care about education.

    1. As you are one of my primary inspirations, I am honored that you think so!