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
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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