Here is my little note of encouragement as you are either returning to yet another school year or beginning your teaching career. I wish you all the best year of your students’ lives—I know that’s what you all wish for. The truth is, though, that this is a tough time for teachers and it’s gotten tougher since I taught for one year at Northeast High in Philadelphia in 2010. I’m back there often and I was just there for commencement where six hundred kids graduated. The day was electric! That’s the good news. The bad news is that, the night before, there was a retirement party for thirty-four of the school’s teachers. Their overriding reason for leaving was the contract they’d been offered by the district. Being a teacher was never about getting rich, but the continuing pay cuts and further givebacks proved to be a tipping point for them. It’s too bad that teachers, after years of service, are forced to decide when to leave based on any issue other than that they are ready to stop doing what they love. No reflection on a job and career done well, just a pragmatic decision about money. To many teachers, this is the final indignity. There were tears.
But this is supposed to be an uplifting message to coincide with your return to school and the release of the paperback version of my book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, and I want to be as encouraging as possible. However, I also want people to know about the obstacles teachers face—and attempt to overcome—every day in schools all over the country. Teachers today have to be so many things to their students—not only an instructor, but also sometimes mother, father, sister, brother, best friend, social worker and therapist. They have to teach morals, values, self-control, and the curriculum, all in forty-five minutes. They have to try to counteract a culture that undermines not only education, but also childhood itself. I would tell my tenth graders that hard work and good behavior would pay off. Then they would go home and watch Jersey Shore, come back to class, and tell me, “No, Mr. Danza. There’s another way.”
In spite of all that and more, teachers will continue to do their best with their students, and we all should be grateful for their commitment. I know I am. There is no more important job than the one you have, shaping our youth and insuring the continuation of our society. So, teachers, have that great year! Have many moments when your lessons sing and you see your children’s eyes light up. When something you teach resonates with them, congratulate yourself every time one of your students references that lesson. May the unmotivated student become a hard worker and parents show up for your conferences. May professional development be interesting and fun, and administrators understanding and have a little extra money for special projects. May the country wake up and realize that we need to educate all of our children and how important our teachers are to the future of our country.
– Tony Danza