I found myself Thursday standing in front of our Decatur Rotary Club talking about my job and how I got to be a journalist. But while I was sharing information about myself, I also came to a realization about the importance of education.
After telling the club about where I graduated college and the first decade of my journalism career, I started getting asked questions. One person asked how I had decided to become a journalist.
It wasn’t that I was an avid newspaper reader. I mean, I read the paper – mostly the sports page – but there wasn’t a certain writer or columnist who I would always read and say, “That’s who I want to be one day.”
As I thought about how to answer that question, my mind was drawn back to my junior high days and my efforts at writing English papers. I didn’t dream of being a journalist in those days, but I did develop a love of writing. And for that, I have Mrs. Janet Walters to thank. She was our English teacher in junior high, and then she moved up to high school about the same time our class did. So I had several of her classes during my formative years.
She was tough, and she demanded your best. She was famous for her red pen and the notes she would write in the margins of our essays.
But every note was made with one goal in mind: she wanted us to reach our potential.
So whenever we would get some encouraging note like “good job,” we knew it wasn’t empty praise – she meant it. We had to earn it.
I think about that, and then I think of the situation many teachers are in now. Teachers are feeling the effects of the state budget crunch, and many are worried that their job might be on the chopping block. And if that wasn’t enough, they are also trying to adjust to administering a new state-level standardized test, the STAAR test. All the while trying to meet certain state and federal accountability standards.
I don’t know how much pressure teachers were under when I was in school, but I know it can’t be anything compared to what it is now. I only hope that teachers are still being allowed to try to bring out the best in their students rather than just trying to make sure the students perform well on the tests.
While this may sound like I’m accusing teachers of “teaching to the test” as some say, I’m not. I’m simply pointing out that the role of the teacher has changed quite a bit, even in the two decades I’ve been out of school. When third graders are coming home stressed out about how they are performing on a test, you know things are seriously wrong.
I was inspired by a great teacher to become a writer, which in turn led me to where I am today. I just hope other young students out there are being inspired by great teachers to do great things – not just excel at a test.
As I was giving my talk Thursday at the Decatur Civic Center and thinking about how a teacher helped bring me to the place I’m at today, the music from the next room threatened to drown out my voice.
The festive atmosphere next door involved the Decatur ISD Education Foundation and its kickoff luncheon for the 2011-2012 campaign. Donors were being honored for their contributions, and the foundation announced it had raised $37,630 of the $50,000 goal.
That money is used to fund innovative teaching grants. These grants allow teachers to use their creativity to reach students in new and interesting ways.
I think it’s great that teachers are being equipped with the tools to inspire young minds. You never know what might spark something in the mind of a youth that will set that student on the path they’ll take for the rest of their life.
To make a donation to the Decatur ISD Education Foundation, mail contributions to DEF at 501 E. Collins Decatur, TX 76234.