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Miracles every hour, every year

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comJune 19, 2013 

Baileywick Road Elementary School in North Raleigh is a colorful place, and on this last steamy day of school, teachers and students clearly had given it a bit of extra effort and polish. Parents of fifth-graders gathered inside the entranceway, anticipating “the march.” This is a customary turn done by “graduates,” a final walk through the halls of the school. For they’re on to middle school, likely to see Baileywick again only if they have younger brothers and sisters there.

All the fifth-graders were, it should be said, excited and happy, with the occasional hug for a friend who’ll be moving on to a different middle school. But, Principal Kathy Hartenstine, a merry soul in a Baileywick Bulldogs T-shirt, admonished the students as they assembled in their auditorium that “Once you’re a bulldog, you’re always a bulldog!”

To visit this or any other Wake County elementary school for any such occasion is to experience nothing short of amazement at what public school teachers do here and elsewhere in the far corners of Planet Earth.

Walk the halls and look in the classrooms of such places. Student art is all over the walls. The behavioral rules to live by are in order. The slogans to encourage good learning are everywhere. There are maps and pictures of distant places. There are essays and drawings by children who, when they crossed this threshold of elementary school six years before, had mountains of varying heights to climb.

Some came from homes with strong support, emotionally and financially. Others had single parents, working a couple of jobs to provide the necessities. Some were wearing designer clothes and carrying knapsacks with superheroes. Others were far less fortunate.

But this day, and not just here but in schools across Wake County, they’re marching together. It takes a village to raise child, the saying goes, but in that village there must be a teacher. And the teachers here and elsewhere were charged six years ago with taking these children from many backgrounds and opening their minds and stirring their hopes. This is the day they see the children step away, and to an amazing degree they can also see that their mission was accomplished.

Over there is a child who had trouble reading. But teachers helped him win that battle. There is a child who had difficulty getting along with other kids. Now he marches with friends. And there’s another, whose small world came alive with stories of faraway places, places he now wants to go.

At Baileywick this day, a dozen or so children will speak in front of parents and classmates, with confidence and joy, about their time at the school. Hartenstine and assistant principal Brett Brenton will say a few words. All around the hallways, teachers will huddle with kids and their families and there will be lots of hugs and a few tears.

And perhaps, in the days and perhaps even the years to come, those parents and those kids will have a moment here and there when they’ll remember the teacher who made the difference. One teacher, overworked, underpaid, unappreciated, devoted, unselfish. Carrying on and ready for the next challenge.

One Baileywick parent guessed that the average elementary teacher in any school works 12 hours a day at least, and spends 10 to 15 percent of his or her salary on classroom supplies. That teachers will go in their own pockets is a fact of life for most. At all schools, teachers also will spend extra time working with kids who are deprived at home. The hugs are the only ones some children will get on a given day.

Moses and the Red Sea? Water into wine? Spend a day at an elementary school in Wake County, or any other place in North Carolina for that matter, and bear witness to the miracle workers among us.

They change lives, for the better.

The real question is why they do it. First-year teachers in North Carolina make around $31,000. Of late, teachers have been criticized by some Republican politicians in the Legislative Building on Jones Street. They’ve heard the very idea of public education questioned, with proposals to, in effect, take money away from public schools and give parents vouchers to send their kids to private ones, and other notions to create more and more charter schools, the not-subtle implication being that conventional public schools aren’t getting the job done.

But they are getting it done.

The reward for them must be in the miracles they produce in places like Baileywick. The miracles walking in the “march,” reading the books, singing the songs. Somehow, the teachers keep going, pulling their students up ever-steeper hills. It takes a special strength and nobility to do that.

Prepare for long lines at the Pearly Gates. Public school teachers will all be ahead of us.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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