by Robert C. Johnston, Education Week, September 22, 2004
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Michiganís state superintendent of schools, likes to ask
students about what they think makes a teacher great, and then
to jot down the answers for use in his speeches.
Since taking over as Michiganís top school official in 2001, Mr.
Watkins has filled a drawer with the quotes.
At the urging of friends and colleagues, he recently compiled
some of the comments into a small paperback book titled They
Help Us Paint Rainbows.
The responses to Mr. Watkinsí question about what makes a
teacher great include, "They help us feel safe even when we make
mistakes," or "Theyíre here for us."
In another quote, set against the background of a seascape, a
student reflects of teachers, "They were always great, but we
didnít realize it until many years later."
The 60-page book features colorful student artwork with each
"I want to get this out as a way to say thanks to teachers," Mr.
Watkins said in an interview last week.
So far, 10,000 copies of the book have been printed. The project
is being underwritten by private contributions.
Conversations have taken place about retailing the book, or
converting it into a poster, Mr. Watkins said. All proceeds, he
added, could go into a pot to generate "minigrants for great
"The feedback has been great," he added. "On a down day,
teachers can have it on their desk and go through it."
Though not every teacher has seen the book, the enterprise is
being noted by educators, said Margaret Trimer-Hartley, a
spokeswoman for the Michigan Education Association, an affiliate
of the National Education Association.
"It was a great idea to compile something like this," she said.
"When it comes to recognizing and honoring school employees, he
gets an A-plus."
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