By Sarah Baker

It’s funny how the smallest gesture can pick up a heavy heart and carry it through a tedious day. Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, I was on bus duty and received the best valentine ever.  A student brought me a Coke Zero with a bow and a note attached which read:  “Pop! Pop!  Fizz! Fizz! Oh what a great teacher you is!”  Of course, the fact that I am an English teacher and the message was grammatically incorrect was meant to be ironic and I thought it was adorable.  It absolutely made my day.

As far as I am concerned, I have the best job in the world.  I respect and adore my principal and all the teachers I work with.   I’ve never been part of a more caring, more hard-working staff.  All around me I see success after success, small miracle after small miracle.  Yet, everywhere I look, including newspapers, television, and social media, it seems that it is politically correct to talk about how public schools are failing.

The doors of public school are open to everyone; therefore, it is completely unfair to compare us to private schools and schools in other countries where the clientele is selected.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I savor the diversity, and every kid who comes into my classroom has the same place in my heart, no matter what his situation, no matter what side of town he is zoned for.  Yet, I grow tired of the comparisons.  Each of my colleagues gives his all every day, and there are many days when the teacher parking lot is filled with cars well after 6 p.m.

Another thing:  teachers are not “glorified baby sitters.”  We are educated not only in the subjects we teach, but in how to teach them.  There are experts in science, engineering, and fine literature who would run crying if they had to try to make a thirteen year old understand their fields.  Yet, we are on the front lines every day clarifying, cajoling, and coaching.  Our training as educators is ongoing as new techniques, new technologies and new legislation constantly restructure our approach.  Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t set foot in a classroom in ages, certainly not in a Knox County School.  Our expectations are high for ourselves and for our students.

I have nothing against private schools.  My oldest and dearest friend is the principal at a private, Catholic elementary school and it is a fabulous place.  I’ve also known a few, a very few, people who were excellent at homeschooling.  My friend, Kelly, is quite brilliant at it.  Still, I am extremely proud of the work my colleagues and my administrators do every day.  I am thrilled with our hard earned relationships with our students and with each other.  My daughter is receiving an excellent education in her honors and AP classes at Powell High School.

I’m asking for a little bit more than the benefit of the doubt.  I’m asking for trust and respect.  People say education isn’t what it used to be.  No, it isn’t.  In many ways, it is better.  For one thing, it is more inclusive.  If you have a child in school, whether public school or private school, I hope you are an active participant in his or her education.  I also hope you will take the time to send a message of gratitude like the one I was fortunate enough to receive yesterday.  It may give someone the encouragement she needs to inspire someone you love.