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Honor Teachers

author: Richard R. Ruopp

Introduction to this article by Faye Ruopp
Senior Project Director
Education Development Center, Inc.
Reaching Every Teacher: A Systemic Approach to Increased Student Achievement K-12

Before I began my work in teacher enhancement at Education Development Center, I spent 20 years teaching high school mathematics. I left the classroom five years ago, and currently direct the professional development program for an LSC in Waltham, MA., Reaching Every Teacher. The longer I'm away from direct contact with students and classrooms, the more I feel the need to remind myself of what it was like to be a teacher. Putting myself in teachers' shoes, especially in the context of the enormous changes we are asking them to make in their teaching and learning, seems essential in my current work. As my uncle, Dick Ruopp, commented in his book LabNet: Toward a Community of Practice, "Only active teachers know and understand what other teachers face each day. It is not enough to have been a teacher. It is not enough to be steeped in the literature of teaching. Teaching is a dynamic craft and art that must continually adapt to changing conditions over time."

My work with teachers is strongly influenced by my sincere and heartfelt respect for the work that teachers do day to day. And when I think about professional development programs and design, I like to keep in mind first and foremost the values put forth in Dick Ruopp's essay below. I'm sharing this with you as a way of grounding and anchoring the work of those of us in teacher enhancement who come into regular contact with people who do the extraordinary work of teaching children. I hope you will pass his words on to those valued professionals.

published in: Hands On!, TERC
published: FALL 97
posted to site: 04/02/1998

Honor Teachers
by Richard R. Ruopp

Reproduced with permission of Hands On! (Fall, 1997, pp. 17).

I've thought a lot about teachers over the years. I had a bad one in the first grade (read: one I didn't like), and a wonderful one in third grade (she found me by chance forty years later and sent me three stories about things I had done the year I was in her class). I've thought a lot about what makes for good teaching and ineffective teaching. I've thought about how hard or how easy the job of teaching is. I've wondered about the differences in teachers' styles and the different ways students learn, at different ages, in different subjects. I've reflected on why most other countries honor the teaching profession in a way these United States do not. I've come to these fundamental conclusions: teaching is a critical role in our society; good teaching makes a difference; teachers deserve to be honored.

I don't want to over-glorify the role of teacher. It is vital, but it is not everything. There are powerful forces that mitigate against the best teacher as lone heroine or hero: the values of a community, the predispositions of parents, the demands of a state, the requirements of a subject, the limitations of money and time.

And then there is the child, and if we are to understand the role of the teacher, we must understand the development of the child. I have for some time been captivated by the notion that children have a set of tasks that are central to the developmental, and therefore to the educational, process. And I see those tasks under the rubric of "invention." And I use the word "invent" deliberately. "Invent," as in "to find," "to discover" -- from the Latin "to come upon."

That is our task as humans: to learn that we are responsible for inventing a reasonable, worthwhile, and meaningful life in the years available to us, and that we are not alone in this awesome task. Parents play a crucial role in this process of invention, as do other adults -- especially teachers. Then come friends and work colleagues, and a host of life experiences.

Helping children invent their lives, that is a worthwhile task. And the fundamental aspects of that developmental work do not change: achieving knowledge of the self; understanding how to live with others; acquiring a set of work skills that will earn --at a minimum -- food, shelter, and clothing. And beyond the fundamentals, acquiring the personal skills that will satisfy the deeply rooted urge to create out of a well-tutored imagination; that will foster a life that includes constructive passion, the mystery of intimacy, the unfailing wonder of making a family, and thus will perpetuate the ebb and flow of the generations in the midst of the ineluctable mystery of the ultimate beginnings and endings and purposes of humankind.

The perennial tasks of childhood remain the same. And so the task of teachers remains the same: guiding self-invention through empowering and authenticating processes. Only the environment and the tools have changed. Although we know the role of the teacher is not everything, we also know that it is a role that, done well, is so important to self-invention that we should, we must, honor teachers.