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Last Updated: 10/31/2017
 

Article of Interest - Michigan

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Bridges4Kids LogoTiny Book, Big Message: Paying Tribute to Teachers
by Judy Putnam, Lansing State Journal, December 28, 2004
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Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Watkins, who frequently writes newspaper editorials and magazine articles, has produced a book about Michigan teachers.

"They Help us Paint Rainbows,'' is a 7-inch square, colorful paperback that pairs students' words about teachers with artwork, ranging from stick figures to stunningly sophisticated drawings.

About 20,000 of 27,000 copies, printed using donated funds and services, have been distributed free by Watkins' office since June.

Watkins said he wrote the book for educators, primarily teachers.

"It's a way to acknowledge their contribution,'' he said. "One of the things I like to say is that rhetoric has never educated a child. The only thing that educates our children are highly qualified, dedicated teachers.''

He's looking for a publisher or benefactor to keep the book in print.

Pam Wong, Michigan Department of Education's director of communications, said Monday that Michigan's Sleeping Bear Press has expressed interest in publishing the book in hard cover.

That book would be sold with proceeds going for "minigrants" for classroom teachers or other educational purposes, she said.

Watkins said he's been intrigued about what makes a teacher a great teacher. Since he took over as superintendent in April 2001, he's asked students that question.

For months, he stuffed little scraps of paper with their words into his pockets. Unfortunately, Watkins said, he didn't get the names of the children as he wrote down their pearls of wisdom because he didn't envision the project at the time.

The 58-page book attributes the artwork to students, named by first name and school, but the quotes are anonymous.

"They help us think," is paired with a picture of leaves and their shadows from a student at Goodrich High School. A blue parrot by a Fruitport Middle School student is the backdrop for "They are our first adult friends.''

The book includes an essay by Watkins, and an introduction summing up the qualities of a great teacher, including a passion for educating children, a core belief that all children can learn, an interest in connecting with each child and a "boundless sense of humor."

The books have been distributed by word of mouth. An article in Education Week in September also brought some national requests.

Watkins notes that not all teachers are great. He recalls having some "downright lousy" teachers.

But, he said, teachers who inspire kids need to be thanked.

"Teachers in my estimation are the unsung heroes,'' he said. "They should feel honored for the work that they do.... Most of us can recall a great teacher in our lives.''

Margaret Trimer-Hartley, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association, said the book is a welcome thank you.

"It doesn't fix the challenges and problems our educators are facing,'' she said, "but it is a feel-good, positive uplifting kind of thing.''

Limited copies of the book are available by e-mailing wongp@michigan.gov or by calling (517) 241-0494.

    

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