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NC grade schools finish another miraculous year

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comJune 19, 2014 

There was a story in every smiling face.

The little guy there, in the first grade, didn’t know any English when he transferred into school. Now, sitting at the assembly for the elementary school’s last day, he knows lots of things, and one of the best stories of his school year, one that got to the teachers, was when another 6-year-old, outgoing and a never-met-a-stranger kid, took the little guy under his wing. He showed him the ropes, taught him about how they stored their gear and cleaned their desks.

When Valentine’s Day came, the little guy brought small boxes of candy to the teacher and the teaching assistant ... and one to the kid who’d helped him.

Last week, parents all over Wake County were sharing those stories with one another, and with teachers, as the annual miracle of the school year ended.

Miracles, yes. Nothing less – and won’t debate it.

They parted no seas, perhaps, but they changed lives.

And, yes, you know this is coming, so we’ll get to it before we get back to talking miracles: They changed those lives and made a difference a hundred times over despite being woefully underpaid and even criticized by politicians who should have known better or just didn’t, either of which is inexcusable.

Oh, sure, those pols had heard from enough angry parents after a while to decide they wanted to give teachers a raise. They also likely feared a teacher shortage if the state continued to rank near the bottom in teacher pay. Now we’re holding at something around 48th. Disgraceful. Good grief.

All year long I’ve been going into the public schools, into elementary schools and middle schools, following the progress of grandchildren, rejoicing in the wonders they’ve accomplished and the beatific smiles their accomplishments produced. Would that our political leaders had been doing the same.

There was that little kid in elementary school, the one who needed help. One of my grandchildren was the big-hearted kid who helped him. There was the 12-year-old walking off with honors at middle school after a year when she worked hard every day and pushed herself beyond just requirements. Her older sister ... mercy. She won two or three top honors as she moved out of middle school having delivered A’s and nothing but. Two in elementary school became good readers and good writers and just this past weekend delivered Father’s Day cards reminiscent of Picasso, and that’s a compliment to Picasso.

Many thousands of parents all over this county are still in the brag mode, yes, for what happened in the school year just passed. And in every sentence, they talk about a teacher. The one who wasn’t going to be denied, who brought a child almost singlehandedly into the world of reading, who smoothed out those behavioral problems with lots of one-on-one conversations. They’ll talk about the assistant who served also as a psychologist, quietly telling a parent, “You know, I had a talk with your child, and I think I may know what’s been going on. There’s another kid picking on ... well, let’s just say we’ve straightened that out.” And the whole year changed. And a life changed.

A great elementary and secondary school teacher should make a living comparable to that of a full professor at any university, period. Certainly they deserve every ounce of respect awarded to other professionals, doctors and lawyers included.

Last week, as the final seconds ticked off at my last stop, an elementary school, I watched the kids go to the teacher and the assistant and reach up for hugs and offer their thank yous. Gifts had piled up on their desks. For the teacher and the assistant, there was a story of a little crisis overcome, a victory for each student, a success.

I had the book bag in hand, and the lunch cooler, and then my good guy said, “Wait, Pops,” and he went to hug the teacher and the assistant. The teacher said, “Hey, that’s not good enough,” and gave him another. I thought she got a little misty.

“You must be feeling a little relieved,” I said.

“Well,” she smiled. “Actually, I’m going to miss them.”

The heart of a teacher. And the heart of the future.

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

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