It’s a question on a lot of parents’ minds these days: How do we teach character?
New York Times columnist David Brooks was in Cleveland last week to talk about his new book, “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.” During the audience Q-and-A, the self-described conservative was asked how he would design a high-school curriculum to include the teaching of character.
Brooks shared a memory of his own teachers: “I don’t remember what they taught me, but I remember how they behaved.” Many in the audience nodded and murmured in agreement.
Like most people, I easily could rattle off the names of several teachers who changed my life by the way they lived theirs. I’ll spare you that walk down my memory lane.
Instead, I want to quote another self-described conservative who had a lot to say about character. His recent e-mail to me echoed the sentiments expressed by many readers who object to various states’ legislative attacks against public-school teachers. These letters and e-mails are not from teachers, but from those who love them.
This particular reader is a business analyst. He made clear that though our dads held similar blue-collar jobs, he and I grew up to disagree on many issues. He’s not a fan.
But he does share my high regard for the men and women paid by taxpayers to teach America’s children. He’s been married to one of those dedicated public servants in Cleveland for nearly 14 years.
“We spend tons of money on supplies for the kids,” he wrote. “I have begged her to leave Cleveland and she refuses to because it is her calling. I should be so lucky.”
To insulate this man and his wife from the current blood sport of teacher-bashing, I won’t name them. He did give me permission to share the recent letter of apology he wrote to his wife:
I am a conservative husband, belong to the Tea Party and I voted for John Kasich. I have been married to a Cleveland teacher for almost 14 years and my vote let her down.
For letting people tease you about having the summer off and not asking them to thank you for the tough days ahead that begin in early August. I know for a fact you work more hours in those ten months than many people do in twelve. All those hours are earned.
For complaining that my Sunday is limited with you because you must work.
For making you think you have to ask permission to buy a student socks, gloves and hats.
For not understanding that you walk through a metal detector for work.
For leaving dirty dishes in the sink (when you awoke) for your 4 a.m. work session. I should know you have to prepare.
For thinking you took advantage of the taxpayers. Our governor continues to live off the taxpayer dole, not you.
For counting the time and money you spend to buy school supplies.
For not saying “thank you” enough for making the world and me better.
I love you.
In this husband’s apology, we learn a lot about the remarkable teacher who is his wife. Her students sure are lucky. Every day that she shows up with such optimism is another day her students get a chance to believe in better versions of themselves.
Thankfully, this teacher is not an anomaly. Despite recent attacks on their pay, motives and even their supposed lifestyle, the majority of public-school teachers across the country continue to bring their talent and high ideals to some of our most troubled districts.
Consider the take-home message for America’s schoolchildren:
Conservative politicians emboldened by brand-new legislative majorities insist that children are our most precious resource but then pass bills guaranteed to undermine the teachers entrusted with our children’s futures.
Nevertheless, those same public school teachers under attack continue to report for duty every day.
We know that children watch and learn. And what they are sure to understand is that unlike those politicians, their teachers refuse to give up on them.
Talk about a lesson in character.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. ©2011 Creators