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Article of Interest - Commentary

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Bridges4Kids LogoCommentary: Thank a Michigan Teacher Today
by Tom Watkins, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Michigan Department of Education, March 8, 2004
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Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker “If you can read this - thank a teacher!” Beyond parents, teachers make an indelible mark on all of our lives. Often, teachers are not given the status and recognition they have earned and deserve. Our teachers truly are Michigan’s, and our nation’s, unsung heroes and deserve our admiration, support, and respect.

This fact was driven home by the recent remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige when he called the National Education Association - a “terrorist organization.” Secretary Paige quickly realized the inappropriateness of his remark and issued a public apology.

I have met with extraordinary teachers in my role as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. These teachers are located in every nook and cranny of our state including urban, rural, and suburban schools; gifted and talented, and special and alternative education programs.

Certainly, there are all kinds of teachers, but it is the outstanding teachers who shine brightest in our memories. Pause for a moment and reflect about an adult that truly impacted your life. Most likely your thoughts included a teacher. Recall that teacher who sparked your creativity and interest and left an impression so powerful that you still can feel it today.

“What makes a teacher great?” is not an idle question, nor an insignificant one. As for back in the Third Century B.C., the Greek philosopher Diogenes noted, “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” If anything, his observation has become even more relevant with the passing of time. A child without a strong education is likely to become an adult without hope for a productive future.

Investing in our schools and our teachers is the best economic investment we can make as a state. Our teachers are touching our collective future today. The viability of our society, the strength of our economy, the quality of our lives, and the vibrancy of our democracy all depend on our public schools and teachers. Political rhetoric from the left or the right has never educated a single child. Only a highly qualified teacher with skills, tools, and support can make the lasting differences we want for our children.

The State Board of Education believes strongly in the value of our teachers and has crafted programs, along with efforts to recognize their contributions. During the 2002–03 school year, a seat was created at the State Board table for the Michigan Teacher of the Year. Bill Cecil, the Teacher of the Year for 2003-04, is a fifth grade teacher from the Waverly School District. He brings the voice of the classroom practitioner to policy-making discussions.

Governor Granholm, as a candidate and now as Michigan’s Chief Executive Officer, takes time to learn from teachers as well as dialogue with them. Recently she held roundtable discussions with teachers in Lansing, Saginaw, Grand Rapids, and Detroit to address the importance of professional development.

Our neighborhood public schools are the true Statue of Liberty. They take the tired; hungry; poor; children who speak English as a second language; and children with disabilities; and give them hope and opportunity. Our teachers are the torch that lights the way for us all.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, “Pretty much all the honest truth telling there is in the world is done by children.” A kindergarten girl at Savage Elementary in Belleville was asked: “What makes a teacher great?” She said with excitement and honesty, “They help us paint rainbows.”

I extend sincere thanks to all of the teachers who are helping our children “paint rainbows.” They have my deepest respect, admiration, and support.

Please take time to thank a teacher today.

Tom Watkins is Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is focused on helping teachers teach and children learn. Visit the Department’s website at


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