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Teachers make a huge difference in students' lives

Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Barry Albertson praises those who make a difference


Whenever I'm out, and whenever I get the chance, I ask students how we did - how the Tigard-Tualatin School District and their respective schools performed regarding their education. Admittedly, I usually ask high school students and new graduates, because it seems I run into them around town much more frequently than either middle school- or elementary-aged kids. And frankly, they have the maturational K-12 years of experience behind them.

Oddly, they often know who I am, which always surprises me, but, none the less are uniformly eager to tell me what they think, with little or no holding back. In short, I can tell you that the vast majority of these students say that TTSD did a good job regarding their education.

They always talk about their teachers, mostly about the good or great teachers that they've had. I then try to go a bit deeper, asking them, from their vantage point and experience, what is it exactly that makes a good teacher "good," or a great teacher "great." This is where the conversation gets interesting.

Regarding curricular content, the kids all say that their teachers know the content of the subject matter they're teaching and are engaging in the classroom. That's indeed reassuring.

But beyond that, the students say that good teachers, and in particular great teachers, are the ones who care about them - care about how they're doing, both in and out of school. They are the teachers who really connect with them in some sort of perceived, personal way at school.

This revelation from students is then followed by a simple fact - what I call "the unfortunate common denominator of public education," at least here in Oregon and for sure in the Tigard-Tualatin School District - that the kids marvel at how teachers, any of them, are able to do this at all, connect with them in some way, given teachers' class loads and the large number of students in their classes.

Classes go into the mid- to high-30s in middle school and numbers well into the 40s (sometimes even 50) in high school classes. Students really do understand classroom issues and dynamics! So, for all you teachers out there (and that includes me), here on the eve of a new academic year, it seems that from your students' point of view, the designation of good and/or great boils down to those of us who can figure out how to do this connecting at some level, before class, during class and after school during the school year.

I've just finished my summer teaching gig, and compared to what you K-12 teachers do, it was, quite frankly, like a day at the beach. For you, though, what it all boils down to - on top of everything else that you're expected to do in your role as teacher, which includes being a friend, adviser, counselor, coach, care-giver, maybe even surrogate parent - is that these kids, these young women and men, look to you for what's perhaps missing in their lives.

And, that commodity is much more than what's in your lectures, online, or in the curricula - whether it be Common Core or not. Your role in your students' lives and your importance to your students is huge. That's what being a teacher is all about. It's always been about the kids. But now, at the start of the 2014-15 academic year, this sociological expectation will very likely become an even bigger responsibility.

In the mid-1990s, the American/British writer Justin Zackham wrote an acclaimed screenplay, and in it these words: "It's difficult to understand the sum of a person's life. Some people would tell you they're measured by the ones left behind. Some believe it can be measured in faith. Some say love. Other folks say life has no meaning at all. Me? I believe that you measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you." Teachers, remember your students are measuring themselves by you - every day. And, of course, I know you know that.

Barry Albertson is a member of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board.