Teachers sure don’t get a lot of credit.
I remember sitting in a high school classroom filled with chairs crudely attached to laminate desks, the taste of a pop-tart still in my mouth and staring glumly at my teachers until a bell mercifully rang. Fellow students agreed; teachers had it easy, we were the ones who had it rough.
This mentality held until my mother became a middle-school teacher and I was confronted with the raw truth of education: Teaching is an art perfected through commitment, creativity and personal relationships. Seeing my mother grade papers late into the night only to rise at five the next morning to be the first teacher at school challenged my assumption as a student that teachers were only in it for the “short hours.” Braving Miami’s oppressive humidity and bloodsucking mosquitoes, she would attend hundreds of her students’ football, baseball and soccer games just so they would know her role as teacher extended beyond the boundaries of her classroom.
My mother’s passion for teaching inspired me to look a little closer at my own teachers in high school. With the scales of student perspective falling from my eyes, I found my teachers to be brilliant orators, dedicated parents, fascinating role models and willing confidantes.
One teacher in particular, Mrs. Murdock, made an indelible mark on my life. She taught 10th- and 11th-grade AP English. Demanding and a tough grader, Mrs. Murdock intimidated all of us at first. I expected to receive an A on my first paper regardless, and I was shocked when I did not. Her note at the end of the paper, however, burned itself in my memory: “This is good, but you can do better. Push yourself!”
A teacher who wanted to hear what I had to say? It was a spoonful of sugar in the bitter medicine of a B. By the end of the semester, I was working harder in her class than in any other and feeling the insatiable glow of success as we discovered Hawthorne, Homer and Dickinson. And six years later, she was the first person I visited to give me advice as I embarked on my own experiences in the classroom, this time as a teacher. Her advice to me? “Over-prepare, and wear something that doesn’t show sweat.”
Teachers like my mom and Mrs. Murdock are the ones changing the face of education in Florida. The beautiful thing about education is its living element. New school buildings, school uniforms without polyester and even edible cafeteria food are worthy, but they are not the driving factors of academic excellence.
It’s all about the teachers. We can see just how true this is in Florida with the incredible progress we’ve made in recent years. According to the Florida Department of Education, the graduation rate is at an historic high of 80 percent while the dropout rate is at an all-time low. More young Floridians are going to be well equipped for college and for competing in this global marketplace than ever before, and we have teachers to thank for this achievement.
Not only this, but the quality of our education has improved dramatically since 1999. Back then, we had more D and F schools than A and B schools. In 2010-2011, we had more than 10 times as many A and B schools as D and F schools. Thanks to the amazing teachers in my life and the exciting progress made in Florida, I applied to and got accepted to Teach For America. I cannot wait until I can serve Miami-Dade schools in the same dedicated and passionate way I was served as a student years ago.
Hannah North will be teaching in Miami-Dade public schools next year as a Teach for America corps member.