A Valentine for teachers


by Kate Towle, 2/14/08 • I’d like to send this virtual “Valentine” to our Minneapolis teachers.

Dear Teachers, I appreciative you for the work you do each day to keep our children curious about life and learning. I appreciate your being present to their growth as young citizens. You have many pressures now my own teachers did not have: Our children are spending less time in nature. Parents are struggling to keep up with rising costs, and so we’re often preoccupied with our work and less present to our children. Dr. David Walsh, who recently spoke at Anne Sullivan School, says that our children are prone to “discipline deficit disorder,” because ours is now an indulgent, “Yes” culture: More, Fast, Easy and Fun. From a 2004 poll, behavior in the classroom has become so challenging that 1/2 of you who go into the profession leave after teaching five years.

Dr. Walsh tells us that you can’t effectively discipline children unless you have a loving relationship with them. This applies to both teachers and parents. Discipline carries weight when there’s a connection with the child. As parents, we have less time with our children. We want that time to be conflict-free, and so we avoid the tantrums and dramas that go with saying no. This often leaves you, our teachers (with increasing numbers of children in your classes, 3/4 of them living in poverty), to set healthy limits for our children.

You stretch our children to learn, to be respectful communicators and caring citizens. And you do it under the microscope of Mpls. Public Schools.

You’re human. You mull over our students’ issues in your sleep, you get frightened with us for the impact of the media, you worry when our children don’t have enough food or sleep to engage in learning. In a district struggling for money and facing yet another brutal $13 million deficit, you waited through nine months of contentious contract negotiations, on pins and needles through holiday break, until 5:00am the day before a tentative agreement was due. Had you not voted to ratify the contract, the District would have been fined $1,000,000 by the state of Minnesota. 67% of you voted to ratify the contract, even as you haven’t had a cost-of-living increase for over a decade. We know this was very dispiriting, but you honored our children’s needs with your own.

We have much to learn from you. My hope is that we will look to you more for your wisdom in turning this district around, including your ideas for site-based management, and for mentoring your peer teachers when they struggle to keep up with mandates, curriculum and behavioral challenges. Our Union’s work on alternative compensation is getting national attention, and members of MFT presented at January conferences in Orlando, FA and Santa Rosa, CA. According to Lynn Nordgren, who spearheads our alternative compensation programs, the Minneapolis model “now honors teachers for more than experience and college credits–we’ve added 33 other ways to improve teaching and learning.”

Helen Caldicott, the author and peace activist, once said, “Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.” This is so true, and it’s true of parents as “forever teachers,” and all adults who spend time with our students to model a spirit of learning. We all know the adage that if you give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, but when you teach him to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life. Together, we must teach our students how they will eat for the rest of their lives.

Urban district that this is, we demand much from you. So, I’d like to give it up for you! Happy Valentines Day, and thank you for being the heart of our work! I hope that this is just one of many Valentines you will receive today.