Monday, June 2, 2014

For Those Who Are Not Me

First of all, I know that the title of this post is grammatically incorrect.  It should read, "For Those Who Are Not I."  The reference, however, is to a Kenny Rogers song with the lyric, "I feel sorry for anyone who isn't me tonight," and it just seemed pretentious to give the correct grammar in the post title only to follow it so quickly with the song lyric.  Those of you who are not grammar nerds will not understand why I took so much space in this opening paragraph to talk about such a matter, but I am a grammar nerd and had to clear the air.

Fine.  I'm done talking about that now.

The truth remains, though, that I do feel sorry for anyone who isn't me.  No, this is not a statement of overweening pride and arrogance.  It is, in fact, a declaration of humility.  What follows are the remarks I delivered at our district's end-of-year celebration.

"Mr. Perkins, the principal needs to see you on your conference period."  The cold and clammy hand of terror reached out of Claire Campassi's email and choked me.  For the next four hours I had to teach while wondering what outrageous thing I had said in class that was finally going to get me fired.  When Mr. Branigan and Mr. Akers stopped by to tell me I would be North Central Teacher of the Year I was both relieved and surprised.  I was relieved to still have a job, but surprised by their message given where I teach.  You see, I have taught at almost every level of school in three states, and I have never seen such a body of scholarly, creative, and caring teachers as I have come to know at North Central.

Then it happened again.  "The Washington Township Teacher of the Year is Mr. Steve Perkins."  Dr. Woodson made the announcement, and the YouTube video tells me that there was a lot of cheering and clapping, but I remember very little of that moment.  I was stunned by her message given where I teach.  From Kindergarten through twelfth grade, the students of Washington Township experience award-winning scholars, artists, and scientists who just happen to be their teachers five days a week.  I was humbled and honored to be chosen to represent such a sterling group of educators.

And then came October 4, 2013.  "Mr. Perkins is the 2014 Indiana Teacher of the Year."  The words came from State Superintendent Glenda Ritz amid an invasion of television cameras and reporters interrupting our warm-up activity in Latin I.  This time I was flat out nervous.  I grabbed our son and daughter, whom Glenda was leading by the hand, not so much for their comfort as for my own.  Since that day I have had the opportunity to meet and work with extraordinary educators from all fifty states.  I have participated in policy discussions here and in Washington, D.C., have spoken to the Indiana House of Representatives, and yes, I was able to share a message from our Latin students with the President of the United States in the White House.

Yet for all the fun and exciting opportunities I have enjoyed so far and will continue to enjoy through next school year, one of the highlights has included speaking to pre-service teachers in schools of education around Indiana.  We all know that this is one of the most challenging times in which to be a teacher.  Circumstances at all levels of the great American education machine, to say nothing of negative media, make it increasingly difficult for intelligent adults to do their job, which is, quite simply, leading students on the shared journey of discovery that is education.  Yet these pre-service teachers in our schools of education give me great hope for the future.  In their eyes and in their words I see and hear the passion for children and commitment to learning that are the hallmarks of any great teacher.  They are not blind to the deck that is often stacked against them by foolish regulations, the poverty of their students, and life itself.  They are, however, prepared to do something about it because they have been shaped by amazing Hoosier educators.

How do I know this?  I know it because I see in them what I see every day in the hallways at North Central and I what I see here today, men and women who have continued their own discovery of the true, the good, and the beautiful, lifelong learners who know that one of the greatest things for a human being is to walk alongside others in that most humane of enterprises, education.  We walk with the richest and the poorest in our community, with those from loving homes and those from environments that no one could reasonably call a family.  Our students are hard working and lazy, brilliant and struggling, inquisitive and dead at an early age to the wonders of life.  Yet the dedicated professionals in this room have given their lives to guiding all of them on that shared journey of discovery.  Who are we to be entrusted with such a sacred calling?  The answer is that we are teachers.   For this reason, I could not be more proud to work with the extraordinary educators of Washington Township and to share your stories with those who, like you, are changing the world one student at a time.  Thank you.

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