Worcester Warriors is an occasional series. “Worcester is a great community, not because of its buildings but because of its people. From time to time, I will feature some of the people who work to make our community a better place to live. If you would like to recommend an individual or group to highlight, please contact me at Mariano@worcester.ma.” — Ray Mariano
We all have memories of teachers who have made a positive difference in our lives. Frank Callery and Tom Sheehan were elementary school teachers who taught me lessons that I remember to this day – which is incredible because I often can’t remember what I had for breakfast.
In high school, it was the dreaded Liz Doran who constantly challenged me. And in college it was Frank Minasian who encouraged my social activism.
But, in so many ways, teaching has changed since the days that I was getting in trouble at Burncoat Senior High School.
When I was a student, teachers were generally treated with respect. Over the last several years, we have seen and heard about many of our teachers who were knocked to the ground, some literally knocked unconscious, by disruptive students.
Nevertheless, while many things have changed, one thing has not changed – a good teacher can make an enormous difference in the lives of the young people they come in contact with. Here are just a few examples of teachers who go above and beyond for their students.
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Janice is a high school teacher who has quietly helped many students without being seen or noticed. In one instance, she had a student who had several very serious personal issues. When Janice found out that the student was unable to attend the high school prom, she bought the teenager a prom dress and matching jewelry.
Another teacher, Michaela, who works at the same school helped alter the dress to fit. Janice also paid for the student’s prom ticket, drove her to the prom and then returned when the dance was over and drove the student home.
Tom is a high school teacher who has created an incredible program for a diverse group of about 50 students, many who have limited English speaking ability or are special education students.
The Outdoor Adventure Squad teaches leadership and outdoors skills, and provides these inner-city students with access to the outdoors at little or no cost. Essentially, students select trips they want to go on, and are responsible for working with Tom to plan the trip. Trips include hiking in the White Mountains, canoeing, whitewater rafting, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fat biking (whatever that is) and camping on Boston Harbor Islands.
With the help of his fellow teacher, Margaret, Tom does all of this on his own time, after school, on weekends and in the summer. Along with private donations, Tom helps to pay for the costs of the program.
Elementary school teachers working in inner-city schools have many opportunities to help our neediest students.
A student in one elementary school was removed from her dysfunctional home and the social worker was unable to find a foster home in the Worcester area. As a result, the student would have been unable to finish the sixth grade with her classmates. One of the student’s former teachers, Maureen, who was still teaching at the school, learned of the situation and offered to become a foster parent so the girl could complete the school year and participate in the promotion ceremony with her classmates.
Michaela is a high school librarian. She has been running a book club for the past 17 years. About 15 students meet monthly, review the book, then watch the movie that goes along with the book, and eat pizza and snacks.
For the past 10 years, Michaela and her colleague Gina have been taking about 25 girls who can’t afford a prom dress to get a dress, jewelry and makeup, all free – on a Saturday. The event is called the MetroWest Princess Boutique and is sponsored by the GFWC (General Federation of Women’s Clubs) Marlborough Junior Woman’s Club.
And then there is Marie, a high school teacher, who works with a group of teenage girls after school in their cooking club to make up for the fact that the school system no longer offers home economics classes. All of the cooking ingredients are donated.
You get the idea. These are just a few examples of teachers who, like so many of their colleagues, go well beyond what is expected of them to impact the children in their care.
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Teachers are also actively involved in a wide range of community activities. There are countless teachers who organize walk-a-thons, collect coins with students in school, organize neighborhood cleanups and other activities beyond the school day.
Certainly teaching, especially today, can be a frustrating job. There are so many new rules, changing standardized tests and administrative procedures that get in the way of a teacher actually doing his or her job. But, in the end, when a teacher sees a student grasp a new concept, become excited about learning or reach beyond what was expected of them, the rewards make all of their hard work worthwhile.
I know a high school teacher who recently reconnected with a student she had in class a decade ago. The young woman is now pursuing her Ph.D. and a profession in the field she first learned about in this teacher’s high school classroom. Imagine what that feels like. Imagine having such a great impact on a student that they dedicate their entire professional life based on a spark that you ignited in them.
Despite the enormous impact that so many teachers have on our children, not everyone sees the value teachers bring to the lives of our children. Instead some cynics focus on the teachers’ work schedule.
Like most people, I have heard the whining from people who have no idea what a teacher does. They complain that teachers have it easy because they get out of work at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. But these same people never mention that teachers get up at 5:30 every morning to get into work and then spend several hours, in the evening, at home correcting tests, grading papers and preparing lesson plans.
Of course the complainers never fail to mention the lengthy summer vacations teachers get. Again, they fail to mention that teachers typically spend a few of those weeks getting lessons and materials ready for the next school year.
And the complainers never mention how incredibly demanding teaching has become. Especially in inner-city schools, teachers face students with more challenges than ever before. Today, along with teaching subject material, teachers are expected to be social workers, psychiatrists, nurses and sometimes substitute parents.
Thirty years ago, most parents supported a teacher’s efforts. I know growing up that if a teacher had a complaint about one of the children in my family, that child was in trouble – especially with my dad. Today, parents are often less engaged and many times less present.
What was once a demanding profession is now an exhausting job.
Our teachers deserve our sincere thanks and our appreciation for all they have done for us – and all they continue to do every school day.
So, to Mr. Callery, Mr. Sheehan, Ms. Doran, Mr. Minasian, and all the other great teachers who worked to challenge me and who had to put up with me along the way; thank you!
Note: Use this column to give a shout out to your favorite teacher by inserting a comment!
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Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.