Book, Big Message: Paying Tribute to Teachers
by Judy Putnam, Lansing State Journal, December 28, 2004
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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
About 20,000 of 27,000 copies, printed using donated funds and
services, have been distributed free by Watkins' office since
Watkins said he wrote the book for educators, primarily
"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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org or by
calling (517) 241-0494.
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