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Posted June 14, 2011

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May 2011: Teachers make it possible

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

My children had terrific teachers when they were in school. When they reached high school graduation, I couldn’t have been more proud of their achievement. I also couldn’t thank their teachers enough.

Yes, my kids went to public school in Kansas, but the pride among parents is universal. I’ve met many of them in Albuquerque at graduation time.

This is my fourth graduation season with Albuquerque Public Schools (third, officially), and the joy of it never diminishes. It’s what we all look forward to as educators. In fact, I plan to attend 10 graduation ceremonies over a five-day period next week. It’s one of the most important events in a young person’s life.

I want to congratulate the graduates of the Class of 2011 and their families. I wish them the best as they move on to the next chapter of their lives, whether that means college or the working world.

The graduation rate in APS is nearly 70 percent, which really is phenomenal for a large, urban district. I believe that rate will only head upward in the coming years, thanks to focus and dedication on everyone’s part.

Students’ skills, hard work and the support of their families are key to their success, obviously. But, who else had a tremendous hand in getting them to the graduation line? That’s right, their teachers.

Teachers do not get nearly enough credit for all they do. I’ve been an educator for nearly 40 years and, somewhere along the way, bashing education and teachers became fashionable in America. I can’t explain the culture shift. Maybe it’s the sense of feeling that our youth are somehow behind because children in other countries score higher in math and science tests. Maybe it’s the cries for education reform. Either way, teachers are getting caught in the crossfire, and it’s not right.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favor of accountability. A fair, well thought out evaluation system would give us all a better sense of whether we’re headed in the right direction. But there’s a fine line between holding someone accountable and accusatory finger-pointing.

Let me go on record right now that I support teachers, as well as principals and staff, for the work they do. Teaching is an honorable profession. Teachers are dedicated professionals and are doing great things for students today. I’d go so far as to say that without teachers, America would not be as great a country as it is today.

All in all, teachers weather a lot of heat these days. Once again this year, teachers had to do more with less and they stepped up. Unfortunately, that will continue to be the way of life at APS for the foreseeable future.

And, yet, even as they continue to take their lumps as a group, we still have evidence that teachers are recognized when people think of them as individuals:

  • Parents gave APS teachers and schools the highest marks in the seven years that the Quality of Education Parent Survey has been used. Eighty-nine percent of parents who responded agreed or strongly agreed that their children’s teachers do a good job teaching math, while 93 percent said the same about reading and writing.
  • Three APS high school teachers won Golden Apple Fellow awards. This is significant because students became pretty emotional at the awards ceremony when introducing the teachers they nominated.
  • An APS elementary teacher received the 2011 Governor’s Award for Outstanding New Mexico Women.
  • The APS Education Foundation and Pepsi recognize an outstanding teacher each month.
  • Recent visitors from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has invested $2.5 million in APS, praised the work that the district’s teachers are doing. They continue to observe our district closely.
  • On National Teacher Appreciation Day last week, the post on APS’ Facebook page drew dozens of comments from people thanking teachers at various schools.

As long as we’re throwing caps in the air for graduates, we should also take a moment to tip them to teachers. Please remember to thank them before the school year ends.

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