Author Bio: Lily Eskelsen García, an elementary teacher from Utah, is Vice President of the National Education Association. She is one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country and one of its most influential Hispanic educators.
Thank you, Mr. Olsen. Thank you Ms. Lee. Thank you Sister Claire. Thank you Mrs. Hildebrand.
My list is a long one. There are so many teachers who brought me to where I am in my life, and except for one or two, I have no idea where they are today. I went to Catholic school in Georgia until I was ten and then I mostly went to Department of Defense schools wherever the Army sent my dad. I went to public schools in Fairbank at Ryan Jr. High and Queen Anne High School in Seattle and Box Elder High School in Brigham City, Utah and El Paso Community College in (not El Paso, but) Colorado Springs and then on to the University of Utah.
I had incredible teachers all my life. And I am not alone.
It is a common American experience to feel a connection to your schools and the people who touched your lives there. It is a historic American experience that some of our most revered, courageous social justice icons fought to give ALL children – no matter the color of their skin, the language they spoke, or where they found God – to be able to have a good public neighborhood school that cherished all of them.
In the beautiful month of May we commemorate a lawsuit that changed, literally, the face of public schools. Mr. Oliver Brown was a welder and part-time pastor in Topeka, Kansas. His little girl, Linda, had been prevented from enrolling in the neighborhood public school and forced to walk six blocks to the bus stop and ride to an all-black school far from her house.
Mr. Brown was listed first in a string of plaintiffs who sued the Topeka Board of Education and so the case bears his name: Brown vs. The Board of Education. But, as we know, winning a lawsuit doesn’t win hearts and minds. Brown vs. the Board was only the beginning of one hard-fought win after another after another. It was a fight. Hearts were broken. Heads were broken. But the marches of the Civil Rights Movement marched us to this place today.
Because enough hearts and minds were won, children have rights. They have a right to a clean building and paper and pencils and books and everything that goes with a quality public education. They have a right to have caring school support staff to feed them and maintain the building and answer the phones. And most of all, they have a right to a teacher who sees them as the miracles that they are and who opens them up to the possibilities of who they could become.
They have a right to a loving, competent, prepared and passionate teacher. It’s time to celebrate those teachers, preschool to graduate school. Say thank you to your favorite teachers using the NEA hashtag – #thankateacher – during Teacher Appreciation Week May 4th through 10th. Or make a Vine video thanking your teacher.
We are inspired by how far we’ve come. We are driven to move ever forward. But we cannot forget to stop every now and then and remember. And smile. And thank a teacher.
Thank you Dr. Sorensen. Thank you Mr. Larson. Thank you Mr. Fleming. Thank you Mrs. Stuart.