“With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.” ― Malala Yousafzai
By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
The end of the 2021-22 school year has arrived, and with it, the sweet rewards of graduations, promotions, maskless gatherings, and the promise of a carefree summer. The pictures have probably popped up on your social media newsfeed: the robes and tassels, the radiant faces, the balloons, doors opening to endless possibilities. The brutal days of the second year of the pandemic will hopefully be forgotten just in time for the 2022-23 school year.
As an education reporter for the Monterey Herald, and now as a communications professional at a public school district, I’ve had a front row to public education for 13 years. I’ve seen angry parents, passionate teachers, rowdy students, confrontational board members (not at my current district, thank heavens). I’ve developed great relationships with educators at all levels: administrators, teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers.
But I’ve never seen anything like we experienced this year: the sheer exhaustion from teachers, students, parents and administrators; the frayed nerves that we attempt to soothe through yoga, meditation and cheese enchiladas. We’re arriving at the finish line as if we crossed the Sahara with a water bottle with barely a few droplets inside. Battered, bruised and as my good friend, a principal at a high school, told me, spent.
And if the pandemic wasn’t enough, or the fights to ban books or change curriculums, or the shifting perception that educators can cure it all, the universe had another gift for the profession: Uvalde. Nineteen children and their teachers killed in their own classroom. Breathless media coverage that’s ratcheting up anxiety levels on an already very anxious community.
If the much anticipated “great resignation” didn’t arrive before, perhaps it will now. Add that to the looming teacher shortage, and, well, we’re in for big trouble. Fewer and fewer people want to enter the profession, and with everything that’s happened in the last few years, we should not wonder why.
Fewer and fewer people want to enter the profession, and with everything that’s happened in the last few years, we should not wonder why.
So this year, perhaps because of the heightened awareness about the vulnerability of the profession, about a world that can easily be toppled by invisible bugs or armed teenagers, I entered each classroom with reverence. Watching teachers in front of their classrooms, whether teaching math or English or how to make bubbles, became an act of contemplation, of admiration, of gratitude. Each time I saw a kinder teacher repeat in front of her students, for the 100th time in the school year, the days of the week, I whispered a silent “thank you” to a teacher who did that for me, back when I still needed to learn the crucial basics.
Everything I know now I owe to my teachers, women who spent their days with me, cooped up with another 34 souls, in classrooms with no heating or cooling, no decorations on the walls or books on shelves. They were patient with me and my classmates and helped us discover the meaning of the world through writing, through reading, even through making art.
It’s been so long since I’ve been in kinder or elementary school that I have few specific recollections of what it was like. But watching teachers and their dedication, their enthusiasm, and the sheer love they pour on their students — in spite of COVID, in spite of bureaucratic pressures — is breathtaking. And I think to myself: somebody did that for me. For me. Little stubborn, know-it-all Claudia had a teacher, and her name was Sister Remedios, and Sister Angelina, Alicia, Maria de la Paz, and the much maligned Minerva. (Sorry but not sorry, Maestra Minerva. I still don’t think roses falling from the ceiling at your quinceanara was cool.)
So here’s my humble homage to educators, the credentialed and non-credentialed type, the ones in offices and classrooms and lunch rooms: present, past and future. Society owes you a debt of gratitude. You not only take care of our kids, but you instruct their minds and hearts and inspire them to become good humans. In the classroom you form little families that have to be broken up each year, sending those young souls into the world with the hope that you’ve made a difference. Rest assured, you have.
May you remain resilient to continue to inspire little Claudias, Julias, Kathys and Joses. May you have a restful summer and return next year ready for the new crop of souls and challenges life will bring you. You are making the world a better place, one human at a time.
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