Think back. Depending on your age, you may have to think way back. Since about age 3 or 4 or maybe 5 or 6, how did you spend most of your waking hours? Probably sitting in a classroom. A classroom with an adult in the front who was called Miss Johnson or Mrs. Sundermen or Mr. Wingate or, well you get the idea.

May 6 to May 10 of this year was designated Teacher Appreciation Week. This attempt to recognize the value of teachers in the construction of our communities, government and democracy was declared by Congress in 1980 as National Teacher Day, and modified in 1985 by the National PTA as Teacher Appreciation Week.

So why should we care? It seems pretty obvious. Without some form of education for the mass citizens, we might have a fairly ignorant population that might not be able to think critically, solve problems confronting our nation, speak the same language, read, write, or do lots of other things that make for a lively country.

If you performed my little thought experiment in the opening of this piece, you probably were able to come up with a name or two of a teacher who had a major influence on your paths in life. For me, Mr. Wingo (Livingston High School), Mr. Light (El Capitan Elementary, Delhi) both science teachers, and Mrs. Richie (Livingston High, English) and Ms. Robbie (head of English Department, Merced College) all made significant contributions to my life. My love of science, writing and reading were all encouraged by these great teachers.

Since I have spent over 40 years in education, I have had an opportunity to see the very best and the very worst teachers. I visited the online site of the Mark Twain Union Elementary School District, where I worked as a counselor and teacher for 10 years, retiring in 2010 (omg, that is already nine years ago!) and noticed the names of many teachers that I knew did great work as educators. One that has always stood out in my mind is Jeff Airola who is still teaching seventh- and eighth-grade social studies.

I really wished I had paid more attention when I took social studies classes, because to me they seemed so boring and irrelevant. Now that I frequently write opinion pieces for this paper, I often regret my lack of knowledge of American history. Mr. Airola made me wish I could have had him as a teacher, because kids always seemed to really enjoy a class that I really didn’t enjoy.

What seems most important to me with regard to Teacher Appreciation Week, is the fact that it should be a yearlong celebration every year. Unless you have tried to climb the mountain of teaching public education, you really cannot understand what a challenging climb it is.

Imagine some of the more active, intelligent, strong-willed kids that exist in your family, whether they are your own children, or even grandchildren, and add in some much-less energetic, depressed, unhappy kids, and finally imagine having 25 to 35 of these as students in a class you are responsible for. Now add into your imaginary scenario that some of these students come from homes that are not functioning so well. Perhaps parents are working two or three jobs, or the father or mother is absent from the home or there are drug or alcohol or other abuse problems.

Here is something else to add into your “classroom of the mind” – students who don’t eat properly, get sufficient sleep, or have a variety of learning challenges. Finally, remember that you have a lot of standards you must somehow teach to this group of kids. Do you feel a little overwhelmed or perhaps intimidated?

Once you have that firmly understood, this may encourage you, as school draws to a close in much of the Mother Lode, to thank the teachers that are doing this for your kids, for your community and for our county. If you want to contribute to making our country great, support the teachers of all grade levels by voting for representatives that also support teachers and education. If you have any extra time, also thank the teachers from your own past that inspired you.

Kevin Wychopen is a semiretired school counselor and weekly columnist for the Enterprise. Contact him at itsabigworld@live.com.

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